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101 489 

Yes, Mr. DeMille 


Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

G. P. Putnam's Sons 


New York 


All rights reserved. This "book, or parts thereof, must 
not be reproduced in any form -without permission. 
Published simultaneously in the Dominion of Canada 
by Longmans, Green & Company, Toronto. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 59-12004 


To Mary 


Part I 


Part II 


Part III 


Part IV 


Part V 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 193 

Part VI 





OUR first meeting was in the winter of 1946. 

There was nothing epic in his manner. His voice did not 
sound like thunder from Mount Olympus. He stood at the door 
to his office, a foot propping it open, with a warm, interested, 
almost shy smile. 

"Please come in." 

It wasn't what one might have expected by way of greeting, 
no outburst ripping open the gates of Hollywood or flaying the 
souls of extras. A warmth filled the visitor, a feeling that he was 
the most important person DeMille was to see that day. Was this 
the legendary DeMille, the bruising, blistering Alexander of the 
sound stages, who practiced deliberate cruelties on players and 
his staff out of sheer love of exhibitionism? Was this the cine- 
matic disciple whose fervor for the Bible had sent him shinnying 
like an enraged Crusader up the walls of a cardboard Antioch; 
whose Biblical dramas woven with human passion were pace 
described as "a fraud that enabled immorality to hide behind 
the protection of the Holy Book"? 

His office was not a small-scale model of the Roman Colos- 
seum. No gladiator or thick-set Thracian toting a lead shield 
was in evidence nor even one assistant chained to the walL 
Nothing in his meticulous dress or manner would have sent 
Caesar to his knees. 

The office was in total disarray sketches, pictures, clippings, 
books, small-scale models, assorted statuary, occupied the chairs, 
leather couch and the immense desk. The walls of satiny walnut 


12 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

were bulletin boards. Thumbtacks held up more sketches, pages 
out of old books, memos scribbled to himself. Newspaper car- 
toons gave evidence of his fight against the union for banishing 
him from radio for refusal to pay a "one-dollar political assess- 
ment" a controversy that had become one of the severest emo- 
tional upheavals of his life. 

Everything in the room pointed to the production then in 
preparation. "We are calling it Unconquered, the story of Fort 
Pitt and the beginning of Pittsburgh." He gestured toward the 
walls. "Those are little aids that help us put together a mam- 
moth production. We spend fortunes just finding out about the 
era of our story little things that make a story authentic. Did 
you know that Pittsburgh was once in Virginia? Ah, you didn't, 
did you? I thought so. Those are things you don't find in the 
little red schoolbook. Did you know that a Scottish regiment 
lifted the siege of Fort Pitt, after marching through the forests 
and encountering Indians? Think of it a Scottish regiment 
fighting Indians in America. Only time it ever happened. Those 
are titaa things we get for $100,000 of research. Now, the critics 
won't believe it. They'll see the Scottish Black Watch marching 
through the forest, with Indians sniping at them from behind 
trees, and they'll go back to their offices and write that DeMille 
is nuts, that any fool school kid can tell you there was no Scot- 
tish regiment at the mouth of the Ohio in 1763." 

He paused. His eyes narrowed in open appraisal and one 
could feel their power and penetration. 

He said slowly: "They say I have nothing but yes men arpund 
me. A yes man can do me great harm. I don't operate that way. 
I like to pick a man's mind. I know what I know, so I'm inter- 
ested in what you know. If you don't tell me what you think, if 
you yes me, the picture is hurt. If you tell me what you think, 
we'll have no problems. I had a man here once who decided he 
would never say yes. He kept saying no to everything to prove 
to everyone that he wasn't a yes man. Then I once had a very 


agreeable fellow in your job. I finally had to tell him for God's 
sake wait until I finish talking before you say yes." 

He turned next to a source of much sorrow, a major battlefield 
in his life, 

*1 guess you know I don't get along with the movie critics. 
They don't like my pictures. The public seems to like them but 
not the critics, Every time I make a picture the critics' estima- 
tion of the American public goes down ten degrees. When I did 
The King of Kings I showed Jesus paying off the Roman head 
tax with gold taken from the mouth of a fish. A woman critic 
on a Chicago newspaper threw up her hands. She wrote that 
only DeMille could do anything so ridiculous as pulling a fish 
out of water with gold in its mouth. I sent her a friendly note 
saying she might like to check the Book of Matthew. I was 
happy to have the Savior of Mankind as my authority^ 

He was smiling again, softly. "Do you think you will like your 
work here?" 

"Yes, Mr. DeMille," I said. 


DEMILLE'S home sat on a ledge near the top of the 
Laughlin Park hill sector, a few blocks behind the crowded 
Hollywood business area. It was joined by a glass-enclosed 
passageway to another home, equally impdsing/the former resi- 
dence of Charlie Chaplin. The latter housed, beside the family 
projection room and storage area, the offices of Cecil B. DeMille 
Productions, Inc. 

Until its dissolution in 1952 the family-owned compan) 
managed DeMille's varied and substantial investments, .prin- 
cipally real estate, oil and race horses. These multimillion-dollaj 
interests \<tere in the care of the "staff up at the house," as w< 

14 r^, Mr. DeUille 

referred to it with some awe. It was abundantly clear that the 
"house staff" was on the policy-making level as to both movie 
and outside interests. We of the "office staff" were not a part of 
this charmed circle. The house staff called the office staff by 
their first names; the studio staff addressed key house-staff mem- 
bers only as "Mr. so-and-so" and "Miss so-and-so." The real 
power was up on the hill; as an office-staffer put it, "the differ- 
ence between Mount Olympus and an anthill." 

The late W. C. Fields lived for a time in a large gray stucco 
home, a level or two below the twin DeMille mansions. The 
red-nosed comic was not regarded as a chatty neighbor, least 
of all when DeMille was heading his powerful open-air tonneau 
to the studio. At this time of day Fields was apt to be just stir- 
ring himself from a highly bibulous funk. One night there were 
raps at his door. It was during World War II, and a blackout 
was in progress. 

Fields was not aware of the blackout, and there was some 
authority for the belief he was not altogether certain of the 
existence of the war. Fields, feeling little pain, glared at the 
figure outside his door. It was Cecil. It was obvious Fields did 
not relish a call from a man whose two homes looked down on 
his one, and whose chauffeurs, limousines and far-flung interests 
had been evening-long targets of the little band of cronies who 
regularly gathered at the Fields home for drinking bouts of very 
high amperage. 

Tm Cecil DeMille." 

Fields burbled slightly. 

"There's a blackout on." 

"A what!" 

"Don t you know we're having a blackout!" snorted DeMille, 
right in his neighbor s crimson nose. 

"A blackout!" Fields shouted back, broadcasting 100-proof 

"Yes, Mr. Fields, a blackout. Turn off your lights and fill your 


The offhand reference to emergency storing of drinking water 
struck Fields in another light. 

"My God, Cease," he cried, "can't we have a blackout without 
one of your bathtub scenes?" 

The first phase of DeMille's day was usually devoted to 
company affairs at the house office. These concluded, he de- 
parted for the studio. The distance was roughly two miles, 
negotiable by a prudent driver in ten minutes. DeMille made it 
in less, often as little as five minutes an element that was 
important to us because of the ceremony attendant upon his 
arrival at Paramount. The home-to-studio run was noted with 
precision by the secretaries at either end; at the moment 
DeMille headed his car down the winding private roadway a 
call was made to the studio "Mr. DeMille is on his way." 

Apart from giving the staff a chance to steel itself for the 
imminent arrival, the information served other purposes. Sub- 
ordinates could be summoned from nearby coffee shops or 
sound stages. In the event DeMille had sent word in advance 
that he wished to see a staff member "this morning/' it was 
imperative to know the exact moment of arrival. 

"This morning" meant only one thing "instantly upon 
arrival." This nervous selectee seated himself outside DeMille's 
door, DeMille nodding him in as he strode into the chambers. 

Too, Mr. DeMille's progress from garage to his office was 
unimpeded, the staff being extraordinarily solicitous. The street 
door to the bungalow was propped open, an assistant taking 
a stand at the garage entrance across the street to seize Mr. 
DeMille's inevitable valise as he stepped from the car. 

The small boxlike, single-story building sat with quiet dig- 
nity in a corner of the vast Paramount studio grounds, safely 
removed from the secular activities in other parts of the lot. 
They called it "the bungalow," for no apparent reason, perhaps, 
other than that its severe white stucco exterior was softened 
into a measure of amiability by climbing roses and rows of trim 

16 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

hedges. Our offices, most of them quite small, opened into a 
narrow hallway that ran the length of the building. At the far 
end, like a jeweled crown on a stick, were Mr. DeMille's 

In Hollywood, differences in position or influence were re- 
flected with great sensitivity in the dcor and furnishings of 
one's office. It might be generally said that paneled walls began 
on the assistant-producer level, though a number of what were 
nimbly called "top" writers enjoyed similar appointments. In 
the bungalow, however, below DeMille, all was equality. There 
were titles among us, but these were apt to fade in the common 
assault upon everyday problems. The dozen men and women 
who comprised Mr. DeMille's personal staff had daily, if not 
hourly, communication with him, lunched with him and at least 
two or three nights a week sat beside him in the projection 
room at his home to see movies for pleasure or business. 

Life flowed down the corridor past our cubicles toward the 
fount of authority. Everything that was important moved in 
that direction, and we were wont to gauge the importance of 
a visitor by the degree of his penetration down the corridor. My 
office as "personal representative" was at the entrance to the 
corridor, across from the writers' conference room, and thus 
occupied what might be charitably described as a lower level 
in the hierarchy. A visitor whose mission stopped at that point 
was not likely to arouse more than passing curiosity, but the 
temper of studio life being what it was, it appeared a matter 
of some necessity to ascertain the identity of those individuals 
who achieved audience with Mr. DeMille. While little of this 
daily commerce would directly affect a staff member, one had 
to reckon with the fact that permanence in a movie studio 
could hinge rather heavily on knowing who was seeing whom 
and, if possible, what was said. It seemed that a good part-of 
our time was devoted to speculating on what so-and-so was 
doing in so-and-so's office. A DeMille visitor naturally set into 
motion resourceful and subtle inquiries designed to elicit the 


critical information from one of Mr. DeMille's corps of secre- 
taries, dutiful, tight-lipped sentries outside his door. 

Doors to the staff's single-room offices, opening into the 
corridor, were usually ajar to enable the occupants to perceive 
the flow of life toward Mr. DeMille's office. There were draw- 
backs to this fish-bowl existence, yet it had an important ad- 
vantage. Being addicted to leather heels, Mr. DeMille broadcast 
his approach down the wooden corridor and sent us into pos- 
tures of deep thought or sudden industry. His strident walk also 
alerted the staff that the moment was at hand to present a 
particular piece of work, perhaps long overdue. When bent on 
some mission, Mr. DeMille did not stop even briefly at any 
cubicle, so an assistant with a pressing problem would have to 
follow in his wake across the studio lot, stepping lively to keep 
up, and fading away like a dive bomber when the matter was 
settled, whereupon the next assistant in hot pursuit would leap 
forward to his side-thus enabling us to get quite a bit done in 

This column of people on the march was the subject of much 
fascinated comment around Paramount, and secret jesting. Visi- 
tors were alerted to watch for it and usually were on hand at 
luncheon time to observe it in full flower. Mr. DeMille cus- 
tomarily arrived at his studio offices shortly before noon, having 
breakfasted late. On most days it was well after 1 o'clock when 
he began his luncheon trek to the studio restaurant. It was an 
unwritten rule that all staff members were expected to sit at 
the DeMille table his writers, executive assistants, field secre- 
tary (as distinguished from his "stationary" secretaries) and 
business agent. 

As time wore on, the hungry staff grew fretful waiting for 
the click of DeMille's heels or the sharp rap on their door. When 
at last it was heard, the staffers were on their feet, one by one, 
falling in behind DeMille as he pounded down the corridor, 
sparks flying from his heels. Should one of the doors be closed, 
it was DeMille's custom to rap it violently, calling out, "Lunch- 

18 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

eon," startling visitors within and bringing the conferences 
an abrupt end. With the restaurant close at hand, there hi 
been occasions when DeMille was seen entering the restaur 
as the "tail" of the entourage was just leaving the building- 
haste to be at the luncheon table on time. When DeM 
stopped, the retinue stopped, and when he started, the ] 
moved, it being considered improper, if not imprudent, to rej 
the DeMille table in advance of the master. 

The late DeWolf Hopper, a frequent observer of the c< 
monial procession, once recoiled at the thought of DeMil 
"obsequious staff of servitors, required to anticipate his ev 
wish without putting him to the distressing necessity of voic 
it* Hopper saw a subtle nuance even in DeMille's frowi 
"one may signify more salt, and to the casual observer b 
contractions of the eyebrow may seem identical, but to 
apprehensive eye each is eloquent and ominous/' 


OUR relations with Mr. DeMille were marked b 
sense of uneasy deference, largely because his attitudes were 
predictable and his reactions often explosive. A secretary a j 
years ago met Mr. DeMille at the bungalow entrance, umbr 
in hand, when she observed him hurrying through a sud< 
shower. "Some rain/* he remarked, whereupon the secret 
replied, almost guiltily, "I'm so sorry, Mr. DeMille." 

He looked upon his aides in much the same way a ba 
might look upon loyal retainers, and felt they depended 
him. "I cannot consider retirement," he said when the sub 
was broached by Hedda Hopper a few years ago. "I have b 
up something here that I just can't walk out on. What we 
happen to the people who work for me?" 


He was inclined to preen his feathers when introducing staff 
members to visitors, and would credit us with having charge 
of some enormously vital function, leaving the inference that 
no man under DeMille could be anything less than the head 
of a powerful, complex department. This curtsy to eminence 
was one we were happy to acknowledge, and quite gravely, 
too. As befit persons suddenly given a weighty stewardship, we 
listened intently, spoke infrequently, and then only with the 
greatest care in the selection of words and intent, at the same 
time glancing at the boss to observe what effect, if any, our 
comment had in that ever-important quarter. 

The presence of some high government official or captain of 
industry often brought out the generalissimo in the boss. He 
issued soft but crisp orders, first to one, then another, tilting 
his head slightly to his right, which was the signal for the ever- 
present field secretary to jot down what he was about to say. 
We always fell in with his real intent on these occasions the 
boss marshaling and commandeering his forces and were care- 
ful not to interject remarks that might spoil the performance, 
even though he might be issuing an order on something long 
since accomplished. Observing this flow of orders, warnings and 
sage comments, with the rest of us quietly making notes or 
nodding, the visitor sat in openmouthed awe before a demon- 
stration of the sort of efficiency a fellow can have when he puts 
his mind to it. 

In the absence of guests, our luncheons were much less 
formal, though one might hesitate to describe any of them as 
relaxed. Their mood was set by Mr. DeMille, the staff having 
achieved a most admirable resiliency that enabled it to laugh 
with Mr. DeMille, be angry when he was angry and, with 
virtually no notice, bestir feelings of grave concern. His intense 
spirit and preoccupation were such as to make it unnecessary 
to point out that staff luncheons were never in the nature of 
a revel. It was up to us, like cautious beavers emerging from 

20 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

earthen cells, to sniff the air for signs of trouble and make 
adjustments accordingly. 

Until a few years ago the workers on the Paramount lot 
referred to the DeMille luncheon table as "the throne." It was 
so called because it had for years sat on a foot-high platform 
with DeMille's heavy, ornate armchair rising regally above it, 
affording a full view of the large dining room filled with assorted 
artists, mercenaries and studio workers. DeMille gave up the 
chair, taking a smaller model, and eliminated the platform in 
compliance with a gentle suggestion tendered by the front 
office. It had become apparent that press correspondents were 
diverted by the sight of DeMille and staff on the higher plateau, 
with consequent loss of publicity to other studio stars. 

The bungalow contained a compact little autocracy with a 
part in it for those who observed the rules. To work successfully 
for DeMille, one had to suffer when suffering was required. It 
was important to realize that here was a unique system of his 
own careful making, stamped with his temperament and geared 
to it. If help was brought in from the outside, it was only on 
his terms, and he drew into his orbit anyone capable of con- 
tributing to the objective. 

There was one pitfall among many into which partly awake 
staffers occasionally stumbled. A newcomer had been apprised 
of the danger in advance, so one day when DeMille posed the 
question, he was ready. 

Samson and Delilah had been in release two or three years, 
and the newcomer had just seen a rough preview of Greatest 
Show on Earth. 

DeMille remarked that in his opinion the Bible picture was 
greater than the circus picture. 

"Impossible," the newcomer said quickly. "I vote for Greatest 
Show! 9 


Any other answer would have brought on complications; 
DeMille's latest picture was always his best. He had said so 
with each productionseventy in a row going back nearly half 
a century. "This is my greatest/' he would tell the press, the 
Barnum in him assuming confident command. One picture was 
never included in these calculations, King of Kings. He felt 
the Christ story was a "different thing that cannot be compared 
with any other picture/' 

On occasion we would find ourselves compelled to take a 
position contrary to the boss's judgment, a tack which, though 
dangerous, might bolster a badly sagging ego. A letter was 
received one day from a poor, elderly widow with a $5 bill 
enclosed. She wished to invest the money in Mr. DeMille's 
"wonderful company that has given me so much pleasure for 
nearly forty years." She was hopeful that "the investment will 
give me a little income for my old age/' 

DeMille, charmed by the sentiments, sent the letter over to 
Paramount accountants with instructions to figure out how 
much in dividends would be accumulated by the $5 investment 
in five years-the time it takes for the average film to repay 
production costs and yield a profit 

The amount came to something under $4. 

"We'll send the woman her five dollars plus the dividend, 
and we'll send it to her now. She won't have to wait five years 
like I have to," DeMille said excitedly. "Then well release a 
story to the press, so the public will understand what this 
movie business is all about. How many firms are able to wait 
five years for a return on their money?" 

A properly sentimental letter was prepared, advising the 
widow of her windfall, and noting with regret that no shares 
in the DeMille company were publicly held. 

"Now let's prepare the news release/' the boss said, "and 
we'll incorporate the letter right into the article. It should go 
out to all the major newspapers/' 

An assistant suggested that a press release might have un- 

22 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

savory repercussions. What will the public say when it reads 
that Cecil DeMille, a man of power, influence and charitable 
instincts., is sending a little old lady three or four dollars in 
return for an investment which she hopes will yield a pension 
in her old age? 

The boss appeared unconvinced. "I cannot agree with you. 
Write the story and let me see it." 

He rejected the first draft, then a second. The third was not 
returned. It was not released to the press or ever mentioned 
again a tacit pat on the back! 

The staff rarely caught him off base on the essentials, whether 
in publicity, music, costuming, set decoration or what not. He 
amazed studio technicians by his grasp of the mechanics. They 
long since had learned that he was certain to be at their side 
when the time came for their contribution to a DeMille picture. 
He sat with the man who dubbed in sound, or "mixed" the 
various background noises of the final sound track, or super- 
vised the musical score. He marched into the laboratories of 
Paramount, set up quarters, and remained a frightening force 
in the lives of the technicians for weeks, long after the trial 
and turbulence had ended on the sound stages. 

This versatility penetrated even the refinements. And some- 
times it went far beyond, with DeMille charting a new path for 
experts in their own field. One such experiment embroiled a 
gentle yet proud musical director at Paramount. 

The musician had been ordered to help compose the music 
for Samson and Delilah. 

For the tent scene, in which Samson is set upon by the 
seductive Delilah and shorn of his hair, DeMille wanted "very, 
very soft music/' 

"Give me some idea/' pleaded the nervous musician. 



"Yes, harps," purred DeMille, simulating a soft strumming. 

The man went away and a few days later he paused at 


DeMille's luncheon table, but before he could speak, DeMille 
uttered one word: "Harps!" 

"Impossible/' said the man, shaking his head sadly. 

The next day it was the same. 

"He doesn't like harps/' DeMille told us, when the composer 
had gone. "I like harps. He says he can't do the scene with 
harps only. I say he can do the scene with harps only, and 
what is more he will do the scene with harps." 

For weeks the composer worked with a group of harpists, 
reported frequently to the boss that everything was going badly, 
that he feared the results would not please him. The boss re- 
treated not an inch, voiced his confidence that it would be a 
fine scene and the harp music would be lovely, probably the 
best in the picture. 

Two months later DeMille sat with the musician as the harp 
music was dubbed into the tent scene. De Mille was right; the 
music was lovely, soft as an opiate. The musician heaped con- 
gratulations upon the boss, who smiled shyly and thanked the 
man for having put it all over so beautifully. 

For The Sign of the Cross back in 1932 DeMille hired twenty- 
five lions at $25 a day each, a lot of lions for a depression year. 
Word went out for the scenes to be shot as quickly as possible. 
The animals were to bound up some nearby steps preliminary 
to entering the arena and "devouring" Christians kneeling in 
the sands. The cameras were set and the lions herded into a 
heavily wired enclosure. Instead of rushing up the steps, they 
calmly lay down. 

DeMille turned to one of the trainers. "Listen, this is costing 
a frightful lot of money. When are those lions going up?" 

"Oh," said the trainer, "lions don't know anything about that; 
they don't go up stairs." 

'Well," announced DeMille, "these lions are going up stairs!" 

He took a chair in one hand, an ax handle in the other, and 
entered the cage. Shouting, jumping up and down, he made 

24 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

several false charges at the startled beasts, who looked at 
DeMille as if to say, 'Where are the trainers? Why don't they 
protect us from this man?" With DeMille's antics rising to a 
fearsome crescendo, they scampered up the steps, casting fright- 
ened glances behind them. 

Peter Calvin, one of DeMille's grandsons, having seen the 
picture a number of times through the years, contends the lion 
prodding was picked up by the soundtrack. "If you listen closely 
you can hear Grandfather in the background yelling, 'Goddamn 
it, get going!' * 

The Sign of the Cross era was a natural for DeMille. The 
filmland Savonarola, approaching it with a fervor bordering on 
orgiastic joy, depicted quite a number of Nero's cruelties and 
sinful indulgences. Indeed, the great malefactor would have 
been proud of DeMille's re-enactment of Christian martyrdom 
in the arena. 

To handle the lions DeMille hired a lad named Melvin 
Koontz, then a raw youth of twenty, but who since has become 
a prominent supplier of Hollywood wild life. DeMille needed 
thirty lions for the several arena sequences in order to show 
just how perilous life was for Christians who clung to the 
faith. A lion trainer will shy away from putting males and 
females together, particularly when they are not used to each 
other. Koontz was not able to find thirty of one sex. An enter- 
prising youth, eager for a DeMille credit on his record, he 
commingled hostile males and high-spirited females, with inter- 
esting results. There were several bloody border scraps among 
the herd, including an assault by a mean lioness. She reached 
out of a chute and clawed Koontz severely. 

Another critter, a male, was moved to ignore the DeMille 
script. In one of the scenes, three lions are cajoled into supping 
on a Christian (a dummy with pockets stuffed with savory meat 
chunks dipped in fresh blood). Suddenly the bold male takes 
out after Koontz and with one swipe bats him off a wire en- 


closure, up which the plucky trainer was energetically shin- 

The 350-pound assassin happened to be an aged codger with 
only one good eye. He flopped down on the prostrate Koontz, 
almost smothering him under his saggy belly. Koontz was saved 
by his own presence of mind. He thrust his arm to the elbow 
into the animal's tuskless mouth. This almost up-ended the 
lion, whereupon he sat back with something closely resembling 
a foolish grin. 

Another male, conceded to be no fool, was called upon to 
leap upon Koontz, who was dressed for the moment like a 
Christian and kneeling in suppliant and final prayer. But some- 
thing else caught the lion's attention-a lightly clad girl, tied 
to a post and judiciously garlanded with flowers. Amid dead 
silence, the animal sniffed at the shackled beauty and might 
have loitered in the vicinity indefinitely had not Koontz leaped 
to his feet and chased the amorous beast into a cage with a 
pick handle. 

After all this, Koontz began goading the animals into action. 
Several young males, strong of loin, showed some resentment 
perhaps distrust, though students of this animal say it is not 
distrust at all but a basic contempt for human beings. Be that 
as it may, not even the robe of Christianity was sufficient to 
dissuade this knot of snarling cats from committing a most 
antisocial act. At least a dozen players came within the orbit 
of their spray. A wrathful DeMille, stalking Koontz on the 
dampened sands, thundered: "This is an outrage! Those god- 
damn lions of yours are urinating on my Christian martyrs!" 

The difficulty of communicating ideas caused Mr. DeMille 
indescribable agonies. Department heads would construct a 
red barn with a slanting roof when what he actually wanted 
was one with a flat roof. "I have to deal with sixty-four depart- 

26 Yes, Mr.,.DeMille 

ments and if I tell them I want a red barn they'll come up with 
sixty-four different red barns." To banish the problem, he took 
to hiring an artist or two at the start of each picture. They 
produced numberless sketches. Like the writers, the artists 
suffered through one rejected sketch after another, and only 
those with Mr. DeMille's initials in a corner were official. These 
were handed to department heads, and woe to him who de- 
parted in the smallest detail from the approved sketch! 

Few were held in greater esteem by the bungalow than the 
late Gordon Jennings, special effects expert. Jennings, an en- 
gineer, was the wizard behind many an awesome DeMille 
episodethe train wreck in the circus picture, siege of Fort 
Pitt in Unconquered, and his most monumental, the crash of 
the 17-ton Minoan god, Dagon, in the collapsing-temple scene 
in the Samson story. 

A part of a temple was built in full scale on a back lot at 
Paramount, with electrical push-button controls that enabled 
Jennings to set off small charges of dynamite hidden in the 
structure. The huge plaster idol had to fall in a certain way, 
in order to bring down first the right wall of the temple, then 
the left, 

DeMille instructed Jennings at great length on the demands 
of the script. 

It was not DeMille's habit to remain away from a scene of 
this magnitude, but on this occasion he told Jennings to go 
ahead alone. The engineering and construction had taken almost 
a year, costing $100,000. 

Four or five cameras were stationed on the temple set when 
Jennings pressed an electrical button. Muffled powder blasts 
sent the idol forward with a groan, its right shoulder coming 
to rest on a temple column, and there it stopped. 

Nothing else happened. 

Two cameras had obtained a small amount of usable footage 
of the movement of the 40-foot-high idol, but little else. 


The first attempt had failed. 

Rebuilding of a portion of the set took four weeks and $40,000 

For the common good it was fortunate that DeMille had 
elected to remain away from the shooting. His jaw had a firm 
set to it as Jennings explained their new approach adjusting 
the percussive force of the dynamite and increasing the number 
of charges. 

The staff expected a cyclonic outburst from DeMille, directed 
at Jennings. But we also expected an ultimatum from the front 
office, too. It was footing the bill. Jennings confided that he 
was approaching the second test with the feeling of a magician 
facing execution if he did not raise his subject from the dead. 
"I've got armor plate under my shirt. I'm ready for the Great 
White Father," Jennings grinned, employing a reference to the 
boss popular with some of the older studio workers. 

In the second attempt the temple-collapse went off perfectly, 
leaving Jennings in nothing short of a transport of joy. There 
was some comment around the lot as a result of DeMille's 
strange behavior, for not in the memory of the most grizzled 
veteran had a blunder of this magnitude escaped his wrath. 
The talk reached DeMille. "I hear I am getting soft," he said 
to the staff one day. "Old DeMille has lost his fire. Well, well." 
He was about seventy then; his manner and the look in his eyes 
told us there was absolutely nothing to the rumor. 

He brought a letter written by a Paramount official to the 
luncheon table one day, smiled mysteriously as he held it up 
before the staff, saying he would read it before the meal was 
over. Little stratagems of the sort appealed hugely to the boss's 
sense of drama. 

28 Y, Mr. DeMille 

In an hour or so, he opened the letter slowly and began to 
read midway in the text: 

"These are a few of the many dazzling facets among the gems 
of your accomplishments-reverberating throughout time and 
destiny, the rectitude of your stand for justice and the true prin- 
ciples of Americanism during a period when much of the time 
you walked the pioneer's trail of solitude. The beacons you have 
lifted for all to see are no less significant than those hung in the 
Old North Church by Paul Revere, the immortal words on the 
walls of Belshazzar's Court, or the magnesium-glow flame of 
in a mind divinely illuminated." 

He looked at us, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. 

"I will not ask for comments but those who wish to express 
an opinion are free to do so." 

Not a word from anyone. In a matter as ticklish as this, a 
mere suggestion of a smile was at least heretical, if not openly 
defiant. This was one of those rarest of momentsthe boss re- 
fusing to take an accolade seriously. "I don't seem to find any 
sympathy here/' he said, pocketing the letter with mock resig- 

Mr. DeMille's memory was poor in later years, at times 
driving him to almost indecipherable commands. Once he 
pointed exasperatingly at an actress standing a short distance 
away. "That girl over there, what's her name?" 

It was his daughter Catherine. 

His top secretaries, Misses Cole, Mosk and Rosson, wrestled 
with such references as "What was that man's name who came 
here with his little girl four years ago?" or "Remind me to put 
that thing back in the other scene before we get too far along/' 
When they became even more vague, a daily log was kept, 
starting in 1944, of every telephone call from an outside source, 
along with a notation as to whether it was put through to 
DeMille, and, if possible, the gist of the conversation. It pro- 
vided ready replies for queries like "When did I speak to Louie 


Mayer last?" or "Have I ever talked on the phone to Herbert 

Virtually every move was documented. One could, for ex- 
ample, ascertain the name and cast of a movie screened at Mr. 
DeMille's home on any night for years back. This in itself was 
a hefty record. He saw an average of 150 films a year over a 
period of seventeen years, this being almost his only relaxation 
in the last decade or two before his death. 

Though a small core of loyalists remained with DeMille 
through the years, many departed within a relatively short 
time, while others faded after sincere effort to survive the 
rigors of life in the bungalow. At the peak of his buccaneering, 
in the 1920-30's, the mortality artfong his workers was forbid- 
dingly high. DeMille would not tolerate skill without stamina, 
and those that possessed only skill soon disappeared. There 
were moments when DeMille deeply regretted this lack of 
perseverance and durability among the mortals that came to 
his bungalow. He hoped they would see the kind of life they 
had to live from then on, accept it for what it was, perhaps even 
embrace it, bravely and resolutely like a forest Druid, and be- 
come one of its determined champions. Alas, too few felt the 
call. He once exclaimed, having just banished a couple of work- 
men from the sets, "They know when they come here how 
DeMille works. Why does God send me the curse of the child 

These turbulences through forty years made him,, pharypf 
staff loyalty. He had crushed too many who did not have the 
stamina to rise up smiling. He watched for little changes of 
attitude among his aides, in time developing an extraordinary 
sensitivity; he could detect a defection in its incipient stage. 
He secretly worried when an assistant turned churlish or moody, 
just as he was delighted by little gestures of affection, whether 
by way of a compliment or merely an anniversary card. 

At Christmas time for several years the wife of a staff member 

30 es, Mr. DeMille 

had baked DeMille a fruitcake, and each year he grandly 
eulogized the little offering. 

One Saturday the husband did not appear at the studio, 
probably unaware the company was shooting that day. The 
boss himself, in a stampeding mood, called the home and finding 
the husband was away, delivered a ringing assault on the 
missing man's intelligence and wound up with a proposal that 
the couple might wish to pack up their bags and return to their 
home town. The little woman was in tears when the husband 
reached home. He called the studio, had DeMille summoned 
to the phone and proceeded to lambast his employer in a 
manner that brought a sudden halt to the wife's tears, so stunned 
was she by the incongruity of it all, like watching a pygmy beat- 
ing on the chest of a giant. 

The conversation lasted fully a half-hour; at the end the 
two were engaged in an earnest appraisal of a production 
problem, the tension gone completely. Though few have had 
the courage to practice it, the assistant became a rabid pro- 
ponent of the "fight back" school of philosophy and tried with- 
out much success to persuade other staff members to stand up 
to DeMille, with clenched fists if necessary. 

The husband may have forgiven the boss for browbeating his 
wife in a fit of anger, but the wife did not forget. The following 
Christmas she baked no fruitcake. Its absence under the DeMille 
tree, a glittering sentinel keeping watch over stacks of expen- 
sive gifts, was noted by DeMille. It worried him for weeks but 
he said nothing until one day at luncheon. Served a piece of 
fruitcake, he looked at the delicacy and, in a wistful voice, 
reminisced, "I am very fond of the fruitcake Mary always baked 
for me at Christmas time/* then sadly, "but this year I did not 
hear from her." 


WRITERS and staff members flunked out of the 
bungalow in large numbers through the years a mortality that 
was heaviest among the men. In time, women became the core 
of his organization. "I had a mother that won my admiration/' 
he once explained, "and I have liked women ever since. We 
seem to strike a note of understanding. And I like fighting with 
them and enjoy their reactions/' 

For years his all-female team secretaries to film editor was 
the envy of the industry. This extraordinary dedication reached 
a high note during the big quake of 1933, a DeMille secretary 
leaning out of a second story window when the tremors were 
at their worst and calling down to her boss, "I have completed 
the notes on the interview, Mr. DeMille. I will come down 

There was only one major woman director in the film industry 
and no women producers in the late 1920's. Editing, cutting 
and decorating of sets were the tasks of men. Not so in the 
DeMille organization. 

This was the period of "the nine women." Only one of them 
was married Mrs. DeMille. The others were wed to their work, 
spending their days at the studio and their week nights at the 
mansion on DeMille Drive in Laughlin Park. The staff luncheons 
were an institution even then. The women scheduled no social 
engagements during production, never lunched off the lot. At 
night they accompanied the boss to his home for dinner, spent 
the evening looking at "rushes" or movies important to casting. 

Jeanie Macpherson, Bessie McGaffey, Emily Barrye, Ella 
King Adams, Anne Bauchens, Gladys Rosson, Dorothy Griwatz, 
Florence Cole and Constance Adams (Mrs.) DeMille-names 


32 Y^ Mr. DeMilk 

that spanned his career and proved his faculty for inspiring in 
women a desire to devote their lives to his work. 

Bessie McGaffey, his researcher, remembered that he once 
gave her a trained nurse for a Christmas present "to help me 
get well after an operation/' She found him "soft-hearted and 
hot-headed, quick as lightning and absent-minded. He has an 
annoying habit of swooping down on me at the most unlikely 
moment in search of a script. No, he doesn't remember who 
wrote it or who was in the cast. It seemed to him there were 
lions in it. Perhaps there were tigers. Come to think of it the 
scene was set in France, or maybe it was a farm in Alaska. 
Anyway, there was a baby in it, and by this time I ought to 
know the script that he has in mind and would I please locate 
it at once?" 

His script girl, Emily Barrye, confessed she had lost some of 
the best husbands in the world in order to keep her job "There 
was that banker from Dubuque, that broker from New York." 
They were careful to note that he liked women to be feminine 
even during working hours, but that he "hated red fingernails, 
bleached hair, too much lipstick or rouge." 

On the day of his death, three of the old guard were at their 
desks. Anne Bauchens, who began with him forty-three years 
before, was turning her attention as film editor to his next 
project, a saga of Boy Scouts. Florence Cole, his No. 1 studio 
secretary, was noting down the next day's appointments. She 
had joined the select DeMille circle thirty-one years ago. The 
third was Berenice Mosk, his "girl Friday," grave, soft-spoken, 

Berenice Mosk held the most difficult job in the DeMille 
secretariat, at once secretary, memory jogger, technical expert 
and clearinghouse for a vast variety of items important to the 
production. She first joined DeMille some twenty years ago, 


left for a short while, then returned to remain with him until 
his death. 

In its nontechnical moments, "BernieY' job consisted in never 
being beyond the beckoning power of a whisper when DeMille 
walked abroad from his office. She was always at his side 
whether he was lunching, editing a film, screen testing a player 
or haranguing authors. 

She had the two requisites for her part in the bungalow's 
daily drama, an agile mind and rocklike stability. Sooner or 
later souls in torment went to her, to her shockingly small office 
midway down the long corridor, where they found her smiling 
like a benevolent icon behind stacks of books and papers. We 
sat with her, chatting until small hours of the morning. The 
weak sought her counsel, and the afflicted her comfort. 

Probably no story conference with the boss had been held 
in the past ten years without Berenice Mosk. She took copious 
notes, said nothing. Her inscrutability was amazing, even during 
those moments of crisis when the mountainous waves of the 
boss's anger threatened to wash away the bungalow. She re- 
vealed neither censure nor approval, no inkling of how she felt 
on the merits of a situation that had provoked an outburst from 
the boss. Soon, however, the harassed functionary would hurry 
to Miss Mosk's office, muttering, <tf Wonder what Bernie thinks 
about it?" 

To all who examined the DeMille office, Miss Mosk became 
a fascinating detail. She stood for hours on the set, a huge 
black binder-type book in her arms, noting virtually every 
DeMille word and action. Her book contained endless memos 
Find out the name of the character woman we saw in a 
restaurant today. Has a good face. Good type for circus audi- 
ence No yellow costumes should be used for circus in front 

of yellow backing. Send wires to circus about costume plates. 

There were other types: Have the swimming pool filled 

Get little Jody a toy There are 28 million telephones in the 

United States- -21 million of them in homes. 

34 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

Miss Mosk's famous black book contained a full script of the 
film being made, with hundreds of marginal notes. Some were 
references made months ago by DeMille bearing on a future 
scene, descriptions of "pieces of business/' camera angles and 
lines of dialogue. It was her duty to bring the correct memo to 
DeMille's attention on the right set at the right moment. On 
the first day's shooting on Samson and Delilah the book weighed 
ten pounds. 

During production Bernie was put at her physical best to 
keep up with her boss's activities viewing the "dailies" (the 
film shot on the set the previous day), editing, checking the 
first rough cuts, recording lines, dubbing and scoring. She 
figures she has seen each picture about 150 times. A sturdy 
soul, she was in the audience when Samson and Delilah had 
its first public showing. "That was for entertainment," she 

The great personal worth of Berenice Mosk to DeMille the 
Director was indicated in his frequent reference to her as "my 
right arm and memory." She kept a daily log during the periods 
of filming on the sets. The chronicle sparkles with Bernie's own 
observations, as well as the wit of others, all of it showing her 
enthusiasm and durability in the most difficult stage of a 
DeMille production. 

The cast and crew were at Sarasota in the winter of 1951, 
filming the circus picture, when Bernie made the following 
notes, taken at random from,her log. 

This morning Art Concello pulled a DeMille by going up and 
trying the 50-foot trapeze fall first. He landed in the pit-full of 
water, of course and was really dunked. Some of the crew 
standing around watching, said, "He won't pay any attention 
to that he's a trouper." 

One of the writers in a lather today because we'd shot a scene 
he hadn't written yet. 


Saw our first day's dailies. This is really exciting stuff to see 
on the screen. Color is gorgeous soft and true. Betty Button 
looked completely at home up there on the trapeze. 

Gloria Grahame got a nice hand when she rode through on 
the elephant's trunk. 

While Button was up on the trapeze doing a difficult stunt- 
the camera was at a high angle shooting down Charlton Beston 
was to jump out of a jeep and run into position below her. Bere 
was Button knocking herself out, after a third take! when Beston 
jumps out of the jeep, trips on a ring-curb and sprawls on the 
sawdust. Picking himself up in great embarrassment, he takes 
off his hat and apologizes. 

After two weeks under the Big Top at Sarasota, Bernie noted: 
Everybody is so tired, edgy and groggy and everything this day 
kept going wrong. We need a vacation from each other. 

Today Button did her favorite stunt-flying, for which she 
got another DeMille "medal.'' 

This was Cornel Wilde's day. Be went up and hung by his 
knees, holding Betty Button for several takes. And with no 
visible effort on his part. A great relief to the whole company 
when it was over. Betty at one point said she thought she was 
getting too heavy to hold, whereupon Cornel, the perfect gentle- 
man, replied, "Why you're light as 120 pounds of feathers." 

The notes recorded moments when tempers were short, with 
more than the usual amount of feuding between principal 

The gals are at it again-Button and Lamour. Each claims 
she's never been so insulted! 

A woman came up in back of the Boss and touched his 
shoulder. She said she just wanted to be able to say that she 
had touched him, and now, she said, she is ready to die. Imagine! 

The great Button-Wilde feud flared up today. I heard both 
sides. It started with Betty having eaten garlic last night great 

36 Y^ Mr, DeMille 

preparation for a love scene! Wilde quipped, "That's all right. I 
swallowed an Airwick." 

Attention publicity: DeMille wants to talk to you about photo 
taken of him, fat man and midget. Boss thinks it entertaining. 

In all the years I've been with Mr. DeMille today was the 
first time IVe ever been scared. During the big boom shot, fol- 
lowing Brad driving the caterpillar, Mr. DeMille got caught 
between the boom going forward, and the jeep coming toward 
the camera. Everybody got panicky, except the Boss of course, 
who ordered the take to proceed, Mr. DeMille insisted he wasn't 
hurt, and later John Crawford who was driving the jeep came 
over and apologized. Mr. DeMille was very gracious. John said, 
"I didn't know whether to kill the director or spoil the scene/* 
And Mr. DeMille replied, "Always kill the director/' 

Gladys Rosson was his confidante and advisor. "She rules my 
home and my office," he would explain to vistors. He once 
related how Mrs. DeMille, upon learning that he and Gladys 
were going to New York by plane for the first time, exclaimed, 
"Oh dear me, suppose something should happen to Gladys!" 

Gladys' management of affairs penetrated almost every level 
of activity at the company offices in Laughlin Park as well as 
in the studio bungalow. Who, besides herself, would accompany 
Mr. DeMille on major trips were mainly her decisions, naturally 
awaited by the staff with much anticipation. On trips she 
doubled as valet, usually selecting the shirt, tie and ring to 
match that he would wear the following day, setting the articles 
out neatly the night before. She strove as much as possible to 
preclude the necessity of his lifting a finger. 

The high mark in this solicitude was reached in the course 
of preparations for a trip to London, where we had intended 
to premiere Unconquered until the British Government insti- 


tuted its dollar-freeze program. In orderly 1-2-3 fashion, Gladys 
listed the chores which each staff assistant would perform 
during the entire journey, including the responsibility of arrang- 
ing for deck chairs aboard ship. 

One assignment, for the public relations director, read as 

On arrival at any city, get of the train before it stops, obtain 
names of persons waiting to greet Mr. DeMille. 

The recipient of this agile requirement never quite lived it 
down, the staff needling him relentlessly. In time he referred 
to himself as "the man in the DeMille organization who gets 
off the train before it stops." 

For years it was Gladys Rosson's job to invest the money 
made by DeMille Productions. She decided, as she once put 
it, "whether there's any money to be made in oranges, oil wells 
or fancy birds," adding, "C. B. dislikes indecision. He expects 
me to use my judgment and is willing to abide by it." 

The day before the crash of '29 DeMille instructed her to 
sell some stocks that were off a quarter of a point. "I thought 
he had merely asked me to get a price on them/' she recalled. 
"The smash came. The stock dropped 20, 50, then 100 points 
and we lost a small fortune. I was terrified but C. B. never 
broached the matter. He knew what I was suffering." 

He once referred to her as "my extra brain," and through the 
18-hour workdays found her to be "a merry, chatty feminine 
human being one moment and an efficient machine at the sign 
of work." 

Gladys Rosson's death a few years ago ended more than thirty 
years of scrupulous, unwavering loyalty in a lifetime that knew 
virtually no outside interests save her employer's. 

Probably no staff member was as little known on the outside 
as Anne Bauchens, dean of the DeMille servitors. Gentlest of 

38 Y^ Mr. DeMille 

women, with a twinkly little smile set off by bright blue eyes 
and pure white hair running riotously to ringlets, she spent her 
professional life in that most horrid of academic chambers- 
title cutting and editing room-and all of those years in DeMille's 

Of the facets of the DeMille hierarchy, Anne was the most 
paradoxical. Who would guess, seeing this kindly, unobtrusive 
woman, that it was she who edited DeMille's throbbing, two- 
fisted movies? She is oldest in point of service among the 
colony's film editors, and like all good practitioners of the craft 
Anne suffered much mental torture in the task of tightening, 
mending, pruning and generally improving the narrative values 
of thousands of feet of film which directors like DeMille tossed 
into the cutting room after intense and oftentimes erratic days 
on the sets. 

Anne joined DeMille during the early period of organizational 
growth, a mere sprite of a girl She helped him film by day and 
edit by night. She recalls that the first Ten Commandments 
took ten years off her life. "The boss used sixteen cameras and 
shot enough film for ten pictures, more than 100,000 feet," 

Anne reduced it to 12,000, a task that can "lead you to one of 
three things fame, drink or the nearest psychiatrist/' 

Hollywood has acknowledged her work as one of the major 
undisclosed reasons behind DeMille's success. At the 1940 
Academy Awards Darryl Zanuck handed her an "Oscar" for 
her editing of Northwest Mounted Police, the first woman to 
receive the honor. 

Applying the shears to scenes that seem to limp and drag 
.took courage, particularly in an unpredictable and strident 
atmosphere. Anne learned that a shell of objectivity is a good 
safeguard when dealing with human nature in Hollywood, With 
stoic-like patience she was able to weather the storms that 
swept out of the bunaglow, reserving the tears after particularly 
hard days for the intimacy of her room. She had not one such 
day but many during the troubled period of The Greatest Show 


on Earth but, as she explained it, "when C. B. kissed you on 
the cheek the next morning and smiled in that shy way of his, 
you were just apt to forget the trials of the day before/' 


IT was DeMille's custom to spend weekends at Para- 
dise, his famous hideaway near a crest of the Sierra Madres, 
about twenty miles from Hollywood. The staff was certain that 
he sat on a peak and looked down into the valley like Napoleon 
watching the tide at St. Helena, brooding over the numerous 
deficiencies of his staff. Here he gained new strength for the 
fresh assaults on Monday morning, making innumerable little 
notes to himself as he spent the weekend reading the material 
prepared for his approval. 

The road to Paradise ranch led over a series of concrete 
aprons rising from the beds of mountain streams. The aprons 
allowed for traction in the winter when water roared down the 
mountain, at times reaching radiator high to Mr. DeMille's 
powerful cars. 

Before buying the land about 1920 he sent a man to investi- 

The report was aggressively negative: 

"It's all rocks and hills and you can't grow a thing on it. 
There aren't any people within miles, and it would cost a for- 
tune to install a phone. If the lower road is blocked, there would 
be no way on earth to get a message to you except by dropping 
it from an airplane. It's terrible. Loneliest spot I ever saw in 
my life." 

DeMille's eyes danced as the man talked. "Great!" he said. 
Til buy it." 

The main ranch house, consisting of sleeping quarters for 

40 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

guests and a 50-foot square living room, sported a sort of rustic 
and Indian motif, derived from a scattering of log and bamboo 
furnishings, as well as a full-size ornate totem pole. Walls held 
a moose head from Canada and the bust of a grizzly shot by 
DeMille near the dwellings, In a corner stood a pipe organ, 
its sonorous pipes carved with Aztec inscriptions. A pool table, 
standing unobtrusively at one end of the immense room, was 
for the pleasure of weekend house guests carefully chosen and 
royally entertained. Mr. DeMille himself slept in a private stone 
cottage just below, and out of sight of, the ranch house. His first 
act upon arising was a plunge into the spring waters of a small 
pool, totally obscured by trees to protect his nude caperings 
from chance visits. Few guests could summon the courage to 
try the icy water; a prudent toe-test usually sent them into 
full retreat. 

In the area of the ranch DeMille owned some 700 acres and 
leased substantial parcels of adjoining preserves belonging to 
the Government. 

On this rocky hill terrain he consistently refuted the best 
local advice on practical agriculture by raising self-supporting 
crops of apples, grapes and alfalfa. Then in 1929 he decided 
to try his hand at a pheasantry. Not something ordinary but a 
model institution of its kind. There was an expanding market 
for pheasants in enough states to intrigue a person not given 
to sidelines that did not pay. Quickly the pheasant population 
rose to 4,000. Neat rows of 12-by-25-foot pens were set up, 
their approach beautifully landscaped. These contained the 
rarer specimens Manchurian, silver, golden, black neck and 
Lady Amherst pheasants. There were also African crowned 
cranes, Abyssinian graven fowl, blue Australian goura pigeons, 
blue and white pea fowl, and forty white doves, The doves 
appeared in scenes of the crucifixion in The King of Kings 
(later pensioned for life for their efforts). 

In later years he turned to turkeys, with somewhat less com- 
mercial success. A Christmas turkey from DeMille graced the 


board of many a player and technician at Paramount. One year 
he sent a bird to Bosley Crowther, the good-natured, erudite 
film editor of The New York Times the first such gesture to a 
film critic. When the two met in New York a short time later 
at the premiere of a DeMille picture, Bosley thanked the pro- 
ducer for the gift, added with a smile, "You're the only movie 
producer in America with the courage to send a turkey into 
New York in advance of his picture!" 

A DeMille turkey was a gift to each staff member at Christmas 
time, carefully selected by the office to be of uniform weight 
and size so that it could not be inferred that Mr. DeMille was 
favoring this or that worker. Larger birds went to studio execu- 
tives, a giant specimen being reserved for Y. Frank Freeman, 
Paramount studio head. It was Mr. DeMille's fond desire on 
those occasions to choose a bird from his flock that was too big 
for the Freeman oven, an affable sort of contest that went on 
year after year. 

On Thanksgiving, it was suggested to the staff members that 
they might wish to purchase a DeMille bird, and most of us did, 
the price being the same as that at the local markets, with the 
added advantage that it placed us in the somewhat exclusive 
position of inviting friends and relatives to partake of "one of 
Mr. DeMille's turkeys." They were excellent birds with, we 
always thought, more white meat and whiter white meat 
than the coarse, unpedigreed type sold on the outside. 

Persons high in rank or wealth were the natural objects of 
Mr, DeMille's benefactions at Paradise, Entry was restrictive. 
"Anyone less than an ambassador would have to have a gun," 
an older staff man once remarked. The social thermometer was 
extremely sensitive in other respects: all guests were not given 
the full treatment. But those so favored were permitted a 
moderate dip into DeMille's stock of 50-year-old bourbon. 
These ancient spirits were once part of the store aboard the 
DeMille yacht Seaward, a 106-foot schooner-type vessel. 

42 yes, Mr. DeMille 

DeMille used to steal away and cruise up and down the coast 
in the Seaward with the help of a crew of eight, Uninterrupted 
by studio workers or others, he leisurely read stacks of story 
manuscripts. On occasion he would board his writers and set 
sail, For weeks the Seaward cruised about, in touch with the 
studio by radio while the party devoted long hours to knotty 
script problems. 

One day unexpectedly, while the boss was at the studio, fed- 
eral officers flashed aboard the Seaward, arrested its captain for 
illegal possession of liquor eighty gallons of 50-year-old bour- 
bon! In a choleric rage DeMille denounced the raid with the 
air of a man struck in the face by the Bill of Rights. He arranged 
for defense of the captain, assured him he was the victim of 
foul play, then gave voice to a legal theory on which the de- 
fense would advance its case, namely, the Seaward was the 
captain's home and therefore was entitled to have liquor on it. 

The captain forfeited a $2,000 bond for failure to appear at 
a subsequent hearing. The fate of the bourbon became veiled 
in some mystery. It was in bottles aboard the Seaward. The 
50-year-old bourbon at Paradise turned up in small wooden 
casks-the only hint of the connection between the two was 
DeMille's remark to an assistant a few years ago that "this 
bourbon was once in danger of being taken over by government 
lackeys who did not know the difference between public and 
private property/' 

DeMille counted on gentlemanly restraint on those occasions 
when a cask of the ancient spirits was produced for his 
guests, the restraint to be in inverse proportion to the guest's 
personal prestige. 

The staff for years knew of the boss's pride in the age and 
bouquet of his bourbon; actual sampling was beyond their 
social ken. It did come about by a concourse of circumstances 
that a staff man spent a night at Paradise as a guest, and did 
sample the bourbon. 

It started with the review of DeMille's Unconquered that 


appeared in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. It was not a 
good review. It ridiculed the story, chided the producer and 
took exception to certain performances. Such criticism was 
old hat at the bungalow. We held to DeMille's belief that the 
greater the critical disgust the greater the box-office return. 
What did catch our attention, however, was an editorial in the 
News a few days later. The writer, Lee Casey, referred to his 
newspaper s unfriendly review of Unconquered, then praised 
the picture in charming classical prose. We felt that his logic 
was excellent. 

DeMille was elated. "If that man ever comes to Hollywood 
ril invite him up to Paradise/' delivering the ultimate tribute 
to Mr. Casey's social acceptability. 

Some time after, Mr. Casey came to Hollywood and was 
ushered into the boss's presence. There were warm greetings 
all around. Here was a pro-DeMille editor, a species not too 
numerous. Casey let drop a bit of information that caused 
Mr. DeMille to raise a promising, almost ecstatic, eyebrow. 
Casey said he liked good bourbon. In this respect, the boss had 
a fine surprise in store for the sage journalist. 

Indeed, the late Mr. Casey was a lover of fine bourbon, as 
the boys around Denver will attest; but how ardent a lover was 
yet to manifest itself to DeMille. 

A dinner of lavish proportions over, DeMille disappeared 
like an aging gnome into the earth below the cabin. He emerged 
a few minutes later, blowing honorable dust off one end of a 
small steel-banded oak cask, which he clasped tightly to his 

He drew an amount into a water glass, savored the bouquet 
for a moment, then thrust it grandly toward Casey. 

By now Casey's gastric juices were like a rampaging moun- 
tain stream. To DeMille, who rarely imbibed deeply, the speed 
with which the journalist unloaded nearly half a glassful of the 
antique stimulant was startling in the extreme. Nor had Casey 
paused to savor the bouquet. On his face was a look com- 

44 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

parable to the beneficiary of a vision at Lourdes. The journalist 
knew he had in a sense tasted something unusual Presently, he 
returned to the cask and poured himself a glass, The move 
caught us by surprise, and of course there was nought that 
could be said-understandably Casey's long and gentlemanly 
acquaintance with bourbon proved a pawn to Mr. DeMille's 
hospitality. He made other visits to the cask, liberally priming 
his innards, being careful not to corrupt the elixir with a mix. 
Eventually we came down out of the hills to return Casey, 
with some assistance, to his hotel room. 

We received a wire from him a few days after the visit, 


DeMille received the compliment with a smile of paternal 
warmth, noting that the demolition of such an extraordinary 
amount of rare liquor was warranted by Lee's deed of news- 
papering courage. He continued to admire Casey's strength as 
a journalist even though he may have deplored his capacity 
as a tippler. 

Weekend parties at Paradise in the years after World War I 
were not out of keeping with the spirit of the times. The 
partying vigor of the 20 ? s found a lot of eager participants in 
Hollywood. Some had the time, place and money to toss elabo- 
rate displays of refined orgy. The social expressions at Paradise 
were produced by a man who prided himself on an ability to 
film a first-class revel A number of DeMille pictures clearly 
demonstrated his skill with this sort of gaiety. In fact, these 
screen parties on occasion got out of hand. A hero of one of 
his more memorable high-society movies was observed on his 
knees, snapping like a giddy terrapin at clusters of grapes fes- 
tooned around the shapely hips of a party girl. It was made in 
DeMille's pre-Biblical days, and other producers were making 
sparkling efforts along the same line. It was then that public 


sentiment within the industry began to take over. Enough was 
enough. The producers wrote a morality code, then vowed to 
honor it. DeMille naturally chafed under some of the provi- 
sions, conflicting as they did with a policy which he has reflected 
so often in directions to his writers: "Hit sex hard!" 

The parties at Paradise were regarded by the best elements 
of the film colony as high-spots of the social season. At the 
plates of feminine guests DeMille placed a perfume called 
"Paradise," especially prepared for him from blossoms growing 
on the ranch. Fine brandies and wines graced the table in their 
proper turn. The salt sticks even boasted a pedigree: they were 
prepared by DeMille's cook who once made them for Emperor 
Franz Joseph. At no point were we tempted to conclude it was 
just another decorative detail dreamed up by a master show- 
man. Weeks later someone complimented the cook on his con- 
nection with the Emperors salt sticks. Mystified, he said he 
was born in Austria, to be sure, but he had never made salt 
sticks for Franz Joseph or any other ruler. 

Women guests brought their evening clothes for the weekend 
affairs but the men were requested to bring only their trousers. 
Three Russian shirts red, white and black hung in the closet 
of each bedroom, and a male completed his costume by choosing 
one of the shirts. As an adornment he had the choice of a gold 
or silver chain. 

"Only one guest, a well-known playwright and screenwriter, 
is reported as ever having refused to subscribe to this mas- 
querade, and he was shortly thereafter dismissed from De- 
Mille's employ," Ring Lardner once related. 

On Saturday nights an additional ceremony took place at 
cocktail time. As Lardner described it, "A valet carries in a 
three-tiered basket lined with crumpled black velvet and full 
of costume jewelry, French perfume, gold compacts, and other 
similar gifts. The women are permitted to examine these items 
before dinner, but forbidden to touch any of them. Just before 
eating, they gather at the billiard table and roll the balls accord- 

46 Yes, Mr, DeMilk 

ing to a prescribed set of rules to determine the order in which 
they may choose their gifts. Later, when dinner is over, each 
takes her turn at examining the display, once more, this time 
more closely, and experimenting with possible selections be- 
fore a mirror, while the others stand by watching and hoping 
that their own choices won t be taken before their turn comes. 
DeMille, who makes a hobby of collecting jewels, has been 
known to toss in a pigeon-blood ruby or other unset gem worth 
far more than the whole basket, and revel in the fact that no 
one chose it over the gaudy baubles. It seems to put women in 
their proper perspective for him." 


THE barbs hurled at DeMille's pictures by what he 
called "big city critics" were many and varied. They sent him 
into reflections of such bitterness that a deep caution was bred 
in all of us. A newcomer to the staff learned immediately of the 
existence of this cold war. He was told it was risky to schedule 
an interview without knowing in advance something about the 
visitor's background, politics and, if possible, his attitude toward 
DeMille. The warning signals always went up when a corre- 
spondent asked to talk to DeMille about his Biblical pictures. 
We knew he had been stung most by editors from metropolitan 
papers who took a dim view of his claims to a unique ministry 
that sent the Biblical word to far corners of the earth. 

Too often we faced the ordeal of handing DeMille a clipping 
of a story twitting him for, in one critic's phrase, "coming sexy 
dollars off Holy Writ." DeMille was able to handle the enemy 
at press interviews, and quite graciously, but it was up to us to 
identify members of the so-called anti-DeMille clique. A worri- 


some duty, but one that had to be faced if we were to avoid 
the sly implication that perhaps there was something amiss in 
our relationship with the press. It was up to the staff, he said 
philosophically at luncheon one day, "to protect me from the 
madmen who are at large. Some of them write for newspapers." 

For proper ears, DeMille went to great pains to prepare lively 
interviews. He had a way of weaving into the conversation 
subtle blows against some of the popular heresies urged against 
him polite efforts calculated to convert the cynical visitor. 
DeMille had pat answers to certain recurring questions: "Have 
you ever changed the Bible for your stories? . . . Was your father 
a minister? . . . Who influenced you most as a young man?" And 
if the interviewer was bold: "How do you feel about the fact 
you have never won an Academy Award?" 

DeMille was ever on the alert for latent, mischievous motives. 
Interviews often drew forth his hidden resentments. He de- 
livered hard, direct blows to shatter myths that had clung to him 
through the years and which he felt were now out of keeping, 
He was nothing if not a consummate showman and, understand- 
ably, made some of his dreams come through at these inter- 
views. It was part of his showmanship to take fate by the hand 
in order to reveal to a visitor the unerring and predestined route 
that led to his present high estate. He lined up the facts of his 
life, like peaks in a well-plotted story, and sent them to a surg- 
ing climax. He never stopped trying to put to rest distortions 
about himself, and freely assigned colorful roles to otherwise 
meaningless events in his life. 

As a showman, it was easy for DeMille to recoil from the 
humdrum. Any man whose life and work influenced millions 
ought not to be saddled with a lackluster genesis. Better for 
him to be born full blown on his twenty-first year. DeMille's 
pride of ancestry was much too strong for anything of the sort. 
It happened that Cecil's brother, William, did not concur with 
Cecil's story of their early youth. Perhaps William's memory 

48 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

was faulty; in their young days many exciting episodes moved 
the family along a path aimed toward Cecil's ultimate rise in the 
film world. Numberless little gems of wisdom influenced and 
shaped the budding career. Where, indeed, was William when 
their father read a chapter of the Bible and American history 
each evening at bedtime? Cecil vividly remembered his brother 
and himself at their father s knees. But not William, the soft- 
spoken, pipe-smoking scholar who early fled from film making 
to a university professorship. How was it William did not recall 
those nights at the paternal knee beneath the flicker of candles? 
Nor did he know anything about the family crisis that was des- 
tined to shape the future Cecil, when, after much ado, their 
mother persuaded their father to abandon his ideas about be- 
coming a mininster and to devote himself to playwriting on 
Broadway. And Bill should have observed these things because 
he was older. 

Cecil fluently recalled all of them. True or not, what harm 
could be done in giving these events their proper and fateful 
place in history? Here again, it was DeMille the showman, re- 
sponding to an intuitive faculty for drama, the kind of drama 
the public wants, and, more important, having those things ac- 
cepted that pleased and edified him most. 

In the fall of 1951 DeMille was visited by a European writer 
whose mission was to obtain material for a book on important 
Americans. Much planning took place, and we sat for hours in 
DeMille's office as he rehearsed replies to questions we were 
certain the visiting writer would ask. It was a perfect occasion 
to banish a lot of doubt in the minds of staff members. We were 
never quite certain whether the facts in the last interview were 
final or official, changing as they did from time to time. So it 
was somewhat risky to send out press releases based on previous 
interviews. Some releases returned to haunt us usually by a 
demand from "up front" as to where we had gotten such facts. 


The interview with the European consumed the better part 
of two days. A secretary took the talks in shorthand, an arrange- 
ment we viewed with great secret joy. Now the record was 
there, in DeMille's own words, thus diminishing the possibility 
of accusations that staff members were "going about changing 
the facts of my life." 

DeMille was in princely form that day. 

You have mentioned that your father's ambition was to be- 
come a minister. Is this correct? 

Yes, Father studied for the Episcopal ministry, and he was a 
professor of English at Columbia Grammar school, I think it 
was, before the University was founded. It was in the 1870's 
and he met my mother, who was a teacher of English at Lock- 
wood's Academy in Brooklyn and she persuaded him, at least 
she told him, that he would have a much larger congregation 
to which he could deliver his message if he turned to the theater 
instead of the church-that in the church he might be able to 
speak to thousands through the theater he might be able to 
speak to hundreds of thousands and then when I came along 
the mantle fell upon my shoulders in a new form which was the 
motion picture, and I was able to reach hundreds of millions. 

Is it fair to assume, Mr, DeMille, that you inherited your 
great interest for Biblical themes as the result ft/ your fathers 
great devotion to his faith? 

Yes, that's true. My father used to read every night to us 
boys a chapter of the Old Testament, and a chapter of the 
New Testament, and a chapter of history. American history 
first, then we went into French history, English history, and 
he would read classics to us-you see there was no diversion 
then in the evening. No motion pictures, no television, and 
it was all centered around the father. I remember we did not 
electric light then in our home and I can see now the 

50 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

yellow lamplight falling down over this central figure who was 
reading. , . . 

Did she, your mother, coin phrases? 

No. She was a good writer, and incidentally, a little incident 
in connection with that: My father and Belasco when they 
wrote their first play which was called The Wifeit was the 
first of the American social plays that I recall. They couldn't 
afford a stenographer. The first manuscript of those plays that 
went to Dan Frohman was written in my mother's handwriting. 

Was he a disciplinarian-your father? 

Yes but never in a violent way he would explain what 
you had done that was wrong, and if you couldn't offer a 
rather good explanation for it, you felt rather foolish. 

Are you emotional, Mr. DeMilk? 

Perhaps more than he. I am yes, I have to be for the work 
I do to get dramatic effects. I can be moved by a great scene, 
and I can be made to cry by a great piece of acting, by a high 
point in heroism or patriotism. I can stand before the Lincoln 
Memorial at night alone and be deeply moved. 

Mr. DeMille, did your father ever suggest to you what 
you should choose for your career? 

No neverI was pretty young when he died and on his 
deathbed, he said to my mother, "Make the boys butchers or 
grocers or candlestickmakers or anything, but keep them away 
from the stage." So naturally we both made a beeline for the 

I want to ask you, Mr. DeMille, if 

Let me continue a second in the answering of that question 
you asked me if you mean did he ever influence me I would 
say yes, strongly, Because he was a very great playwright-- a 


> t 

very successful one and I grew up in that atmosphere I ab- 
sorbed it. The family used to assemble every night after he 
and Belasco had finished their day's work and Father would 
read to us what they had written that day and we were asked 
to comment on it. 

I want to ask you, Mr. DeMille, if you have ever done some- 
thing against your fathers explicit desire, but now that you 
mention that his wish was, on his dying bed, that you should 
rather become a butcher it seems to me that you went explicitly 
against his wish. 

No, I don't think he meant it even. The stage has, of course, 
great disappointments as well as great triumphs, and I think 
there was a touch of humor perhaps in his suggestion. 

On his dying bed? 

Yes in his suggestion. Incidentally, on his deathbed, I re- 
member very well that he would read not from the book, but 
from his memory, chapter after chapter of the New Testament 
of the Bible. He repeated the church services. 

Would you describe the scene of his dying bed? Did you 
see him? 

Yes it was something that was very painful to me because 
he sent for me and he saw the family one at a time it was in 
our house at Pompton, New Jersey and he asked me a ques- 
tion. And I couldn't answer because I was choked and I 
couldn't answer I did not know that he was dying I didn't 
know how sick he was even. I was a little boy, but something 
prevented my talking because my throat was tight as you are 
when you're about to cry so I couldn't answer and he waited 
for a few minutes and he said, "Well, run along and play/' 
I've never forgotten that and I never could get it from my 
mind-that he couldn't understand that I wanted to I'm sure 

52 l[es, Mr. DeMilk 

that lie did but he couldn't understand at the time what I 
wanted to tell him I wanted to express my love and affection 
for him but I couldn't. I couldn't speak. I was nine or ten at 
the time. 

Did your father have some maximsome precept some 
philosophy which he handed down to youto the family? 

Honesty, respect, morality, propriety I don't think there 
was any single thing. He kept on his desk a saying of Dion 
me well, because I don't think anybody rewrites more than I do. 

What was his favorite pastime? Let's see hunting, fishing 
or playing cardsracing 

No, he didn't go in for racing or anything of that sort. He 
went through the Civil War as a boy and he used to hunt a 
little bit I don't think he ever killed very much and he used 
to be fond of walking. I remember in Echo Lake, New Jersey, 
there was a big rock up on a hill called Fourth Act Rock 
because he and Belasco used to walk up to that and that's 
where they got the idea for the fourth act of the play The 
Charity Ball, which was a well-known American play, and that 
rock was always known to us as Fourth Act Rock. But he did 
not go in for sports of any sort. 

Was he a pessimist or an optimist, your father, Mr. DeMille? 
He was an optimist, I would say, hundred per cent optimist. 
But not a stupid optimist. Reason dominated him first. 

Could you describe his attitude toward money? 

His attitude toward money? Well, he never had very much 
because at the end of the Civil War, the family was entirely 
ruined and I remember that I wore Bill's clothes after he had 
outgrown them and Bill wore my Uncle John's clothes after 


he had outgrown them. Then when Father became a successful 
playwright, we began to have money, but he just treated it 
as a means to an end. I don't think money interested him at all. 

Mr. DeMille I noticed in these four days I had the pleasure 
of being with you that you are dressed meticulously and every 
day differently. 

Well, with me, I think it's probably vanity. When you get 
to be seventy years old, the only way you can make an im- 
pression probably is by being well dressed. 

You mentioned the other day, Mr. DeMille, that he was a 
Democrat your father. Was he ever active in politics? 

No, he was never active in politics, except as he influenced 
people; coming from the South right after die Civil War any- 
body that came from the South alive after the Civil War was 
a Democrat. 

Were your parents well-to-do people, Mr. DeMille? 

No, they were not. Father made a very small fortune with 
his plays. When he died, Mother was left with three children, 
a home, and $20,000 life insurance, and whatever value the 
plays might have. 

never enjoyed an allowance from your family, Mr. 
As a boy I got ten cents a week. 

That would make a dollar today probably. Do you give an 
allowance to your own children? 

Yes, yes I have. I don't suppose my mother had a day until 
I brought her out here-a day from the time my father died 
until I brought her out here-that she wasn't worried about 

'54 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

Are you religious, in the sense that you observe rituals? 

Well, I don't think I am religious in the true ritual. If faith 
in God and belief in Divinity is religion, I don't think that the 
practice of forms is necessary in religion, and I think it is very 
apt, in many instances, to deprive thought of its religious 
value, if it is presented in a definite form that you repeat over 
and over again every day of your life. I think the importance 
of contact with a Supreme Being or a Supreme Mind is well. 
I think Jesus of Nazareth covers it more thoroughly probably 
than any being any Divine Being-that has ever visited the 
earth. He gives a very careful method of approaching contact 
with the Supreme Being and he was against form most of the 
time. He went into the Temple and threw form out, because 
form had led to money values and it had gotten as far away 
from religion, if religion means, as I believe it does, the contact 
of the human being with the Divinity. Form is not necessary . . . 
it all depends on the individual. You asked me whether I have 
gone by formI have not. My father went to church always, 
and followed form, but never taught form. He tried to teach 
the meaning of the forms, and if you can absorb the meaning 
of the forms, then forms will not be harmful, but beneficial. 
But if they are just forms and the meaning of the form does 
not reach you, then they are harmful because they stop your 
own individual thinking and your own individual contact with 
the Supreme Being. 

Insofar as Mr. DeMille's career and reputation ever became 
an issue, it was the staffs task to keep a nice balance between 
pride and public relations. What the boss loved to hear about 
himself might be injurious if it caused the public or press to 
react badly. He expected us to be alert to such things, and not 
hesitate to tell him when he was about to commit an inadvis- 
able act. "I can't watch out for everything," he often reminded 


us, "and there's one thing I won't stand for, and that's for 
DeMille to look foolish." It was his way of saying we had better 
be careful that DeMille did not say anything reflecting discredit 
on DeMille. 

One of the staff people most concerned about this was a tall, 
deep-chested Swiss named Henry Noerdlinger, who withstood 
with remarkable poise the burdens of conducting research for 
DeMille. Around the lot they called him the sad Swiss, but 
the principal strength that endeared him to his close friends 
came from the fact that Henry did not fall prey to the mes- 
merism within the bungalow. Born and educated in Switzer- 
land, Henry was a monument of intellectual honesty, innately 
kind, and fearless in leaping the hurdles set up by the boss. 

Henry's office was within earshot of DeMille's office, thus 
facilitating communication. The process was one of the most 
familiar in the bungalow-DeMille opening his office door and 
in a voice that boomed down the corridor and into every cellu- 
lar office-'What is the Taj Mahal made of?" The rest of the 
staff didn't stir; when the sentence ended with a question mark 
we knew it was Henry's to worry over. Henry kept an academic 
tongue discreetly in his cheek when the boss split the air with 
such historical teasers as, "Henry, did the women in Samson's 
days wear a bra?" 

It was often a matter of regret that Mr. DeMille would 
insert into the script customs and events of a bygone era with- 
out first checking with Henry. Of course Delilah had to be 
shown in a bra and it was up to Henry to look into the books 
for something that would justify decking out the girl so fetch- 

Himself an old hand at research, the boss would not take 
no for an answer when he had his heart set on showing how 
something really happened back in the darkness of history. 

Henry felt he could not wrongfully hypothecate history, so 
having produced evidence in a dozen books that did not sup- 
port die boss's position, it was up to the boss to make his 

56 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

choice. Faced with the weight of evidence against him, DeMille 
had been known to settle for a single reference in a single 
volume, aware as he was of the vagaries of historians and of 
the mutations of passing centuries. As for Delilah's bra, a 
photograph was found in a musty volume showing a Minoan 
woman whose dress had a bra-like sweep to the upper portion. 
It was far less revealing than Delilah's but DeMille felt its 
lines were such to justify a bare midriff. 

Naturally, Mr. DeMille liked to have the historians on his 
side, and usually they were; it was when history's verdict was 
contrary that Henry endured the greatest travail torn between 
professional honor and the edicts of an employer who claimed 
he was making history. In this respect The Story of Dr. Wassell 
was a bell ringer. Dr. Wassell, hero of the big rescue at Java, 
assisted as technical advisor and laid out facts often received 
by DeMille with the rejoinder, "We won't do it that way. The 
audience will never believe it." The Navy commander later 
remarked in good humor, "DeMille pushed me around more 
than the Japs. I had figured out a way to save my men but no 
way to save myself from DeMille." 

DeMille, popping his head out of his office, would let fly as 
many as a dozen teasers in the course of a day "Henry, if a 
man abducts a bond slave, can he be hanged?" "What land 
of arrows did the Senecas use and how long were they?" "Which 
way does the sun shine on the circus midway when it's playing 
in Washington and Philadelphia?" 

There were times when Henry was shut off from the truth 
by outside forces, as in the instance where DeMille was re- 
quired by the Breen censorship office to pile heaps of soapsuds 
around the upper portion of Paulette Goddard as she bathed 
in a prerevolutionary wooden tub in Unconquered. Henry stood 
shoulder to shoulder with the boss in the claim that this was 
an era long before Lever Brothers, and there were no such 
things as soapsuds! The boss was properly distressed over the 
anachronism but fortunately it escaped public notice. 


During preparations for the circus picture Mr. DeMille sent 
Henry a note, reading Get me data on a man Heeding to death. 
The script called for a transfusion scene in the melee following 
the train wreck. 

Henry replied with a 3-page report. 

The boss said it was too long. "Boil it down to a few sen- 

Henry complied, listing merely the four types of blood. 

"I see youVe just got four types here/ 7 said DeMille. 

"Yes, the Moss classification of blood types probably is the 
most widely used," Henry pointed out. "It divides human 
blood into four main types or groups." 

"I want a fifth type, something rare," DeMille said. 

Henry returned to the books, came up with a learned paper 
on the RH factor, placating the boss by explain ing that with 
RH and the four types there was little left in the field of blood. 

One day, the sage Noerdlinger drew reflectively on his 
blackened pipe. His mind ran to the ebb and flow of history 
within the bungalow. The impulse of the moment inspired him 
to a memorable paraphrase of a classic remark: "Between Mr. 
DeMille's purpose in time and God's purpose in eternity there 
is an infinite qualitative difference." 

It was Henry's duty to keep an ear open for Mr. DeMille's 
sometimes overly enthusiastic comments that happened to per- 
tain to matters of record. Once, when telling about his trip to 
Russia, he observed that "Mrs. DeMille and I went 3,000 miles 
down the Volga River." Naturally this concerned all of us, 
lest a newspaperman check up and find that the boss had added 
some 700 miles to the Volga's official length. Henry told 
DeMille by discreet memo that the river had a length listing 
of 2,300 miles. DeMille ignored the trifling difference. In time 
he began referring to their "4,000-mile trip down the Volga." 

In his chats with visitors and the press the cost of research 
on a picture might rise from $10,000 to as high as $100,000 in 
a period of a few weeks. This drove Henry to worried calcula- 

58 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

tions as to just how such a sum was being spent in view of 
the fact that a single man, Noerdlinger himself, comprised the 
entire research effort within the bungalow. 

When Gloria Grahame agreed to allow an elephant to poise 
a foot within inches of her face in the circus picture, DeMille 
was enchanted, and began beating the drums publicly in trib- 
ute to her courage. "That was no child's play," he would tell 
the press. "That was a 10-ton elephant hanging his foot over 
Gloria's face/' Ten tons struck us at the time as a lot of ele- 
phant, even for a DeMille production. Henry checked the books 
and found that it was certainly not of conventional size. 
P. T. Barnum's great circus giant, Jumbo, weighed 6 tons, con- 
siderably under the weight of Mr. DeMille's imaginary beast. 
Henry made reference to the point, and DeMille did reduce 
the poundage to seven tons on most occasions but was always 
well over the legal elephantine limit. 

Another time DeMille was looking for a spirited, but not 
jazzy, musical number to use in a sound sequence. Several were 
tried and rejected. He then ordered the musicians to try "Dixie." 

"Sorry, Mr. DeMille, we don't own the rights to the song," 
said an assistant. 

A lengthy discussion over proprietary rights ensued, with 
the boss finding every legal avenue closed to him, until finally 
he exploded, 'TPlay "The Star-Spangled Banner' and wire the 

These were natural exuberances with which even his severest 
critics could find no real fault. One New York newspaper critic 
editorially summarized this part of his character as a "mag- 
nified prestige, in its engineering one of the greatest promo- 
tional feats of all time. It was the selling of a cult, as well as 
a culture." Typical of this strong facet was the occasion we 
had suggested that a picture, then in rough form, should not 
be shown to the press until it was completely edited. It was a 
needless caution, but DeMille pounced on it to voice one of his 
little saws of showmanship. "Never in your life say a DeMille 


picture is anything but perfect. We refer to every DeMille pic- 
ture at all times as great/' It was as if to say a DeMille produc- 
tion was born full-blown, in all its grandeur. 

DeMille was frequently called upon by correspondents to 
name "the ten best pictures of all time/* a chore promptly 
passed on to staff members and one we always approached a 
little nervously. The problem was to figure out how many or 
how few DeMille films to include on such a list. Back in 1923 
he had picked "the six best of all time/' naming Birth of a 
Nation, Cabiria, Intolerance and Robin Hood, and included 
two of his own, Joan the Woman and Male and Female, J& 
second and fourth place respectively. 

In 1951, he was asked to select the ten best for an art and 
film festival in Brussels, and obliged with the following: 


Birth of a Nation 

Ben Hur 

The Ten Commandments 

The King of Kings 

The Big Parade 

The Sign of the Cross 

Gone With the Wind 

Going My Way 

Samson and Delilah 

Of the ten, the four in italics were DeMille productions. 
However, a year before he had included only one, Samson and 
Delilah, on a ten-best list requested by the United Press; but 
that request was made near the release date of the picture and 
promotionally it was deemed wise to focus attention on a single 
film, displaying once again his shrewd sense of publicity values. 
By a translation in the meaning or juggling of events he would 
add a new glow to an ordinary occurrence. A case in point 
took place during preparations for The Greatest Show on Earth. 
DeMille was having trouble with the Music Department over 
an original song for Betty Hutton to sing in the picture. He 

60 Yw, Mr. DeMille 

wanted something light and catchy, but the Department kept 
coming up with what DeMille considered slow and heavy. 

One night the Department head, Louie Lipstone, thoroughly 
fed up with DeMille's ragging, went out to die home of Victor 
Young, one of the composers working on the DeMille project, 
to discuss what could be done about the situation. An evening 
of canasta was in progress at the Young home and one of the 
players was a chap named Ned Washington, a top musical 
hand who had written a number of famous Disney songs, in- 
cluding "When You Wish Upon a Star," winner of an Academy 
Award. Washington heard Young and Lipstone discussing the 
DeMille project and offered to try his hand at the lyrics. Since 
Young had already composed much of the music for the circus 
picture, the two joined forces and produced a song which they 
called "The Greatest Show on Earth/' DeMille received it 
enthusiastically but was a little fidgety about the price the 
upper-bracket composer might charge, Washington reassured 
him that the price would be high but not anything beyond 
what DeMille should be willing to pay, being happy to get a 
credit on a DeMille picture. 

At luncheon one day DeMille, anticipating a hit song, told 
his publicity man to prepare a story on how it all came about, 
to wit: 

"I was up in the Music Department giving Louie Lipstone 
plenty of hell when some young fellow who was over there 
playing canasta came over to me and said, 'Mr. DeMille, I'd 
give anything to get a credit on your picture. Ill do the song 
for nothing if you'll give me a screen credit/ So he goes away 
and comes back with this great song. It's going to be a terrific 
hit. This boy Ned Washington has written a lot of Disney 
songs but he was just over there playing canasta and he was 
willing to do the song for nothing just to get a DeMille credit/' 

Part II 



THE first of the migratory DeMilles, of sturdy Dutch 
stock, left his native Haarlem for America in 1765, choosing to 
settle in a section of New York where land was plentiful and 
cheap. He acquired a parcel of semi-marshland that is now a 
part of lower Wall Street. 

The family's early roots were put down in North Carolina 
by a vigorous Episcopalian, William Edward DeMille, Cecil's 
grandfather. In a little place called Pingotown, he studied law, 
gained admission to the bar, later gave up his practice to open 
a general store in nearby Washington, North Carolina, 

He became the town's mayor and at the start of the Civil 
War received orders from General Martin to operate a com- 
missary for a southern contingent recruited largely from his 
own area. He had been away a short time when word reached 
him that his family had fled to Greenville before advancing 
Federal troops. He hurried to Greenville to ascertain their 
safety and to be on hand for his wife's thirtieth birthday. In 
the midst of muted festivities William Edward was taken pris- 
oner by a cavalry detachment that had just entered Greenville. 
After a tearful farewell, there was a hurried bolting of the 
doors. At that moment, Henry Churchill DeMille, father of 
the future Cecil, was having his own troubles. The youth, having 
encountered a Federal trooper who had taken freely of Con- 
federate whisky, was sprinting to the nearest haven, his grand- 
mother's home, with the trooper not far behind, drunkenly 


D4 ies, Mr. ueMiiie 

brandishing his pistol Henry's diary recounts what happened 

I tried to take refuge in the house but grandma wouldn't let 
me in, knowing that she could not then do what she had been 
trying for some time to do, namely, keep the trooper out of the 
house. I trusted then to those two old reliables which many a 
time stood me in good stead my legs, and before the trooper 
came up with me I was safely concealed in an adjoining corn- 
field. Had the trooper's pistol not become entangled in some way 
in his effort to draw it quickly, I might not be here now to tell 
this tale. 

Nor would he have married Beatrice Samuels, as he did in 
July of 1876, and there would not have been born to them 
two sons, William Churchill DeMille on July 25, 1878, and 
Cecil Blount DeMille on August 12, 1881. 

On his deathbed William Edward called for young Henry 
and the others, gave them his blessing and issued final instruc- 
tions, being both a religious and practical man. He told Henry 
to measure the space behind the vault to determine whether 
there was room both for him and mother, too. He told him 
how deep the grave was to be dug, that cement, not mortar, 
was to be used, instructing him where to buy the cement and 
how much to pay for it. Also he was to purchase flagstones in 
preference to bricks, which he did not like, and these were to 
form a simple tombstone. He chided them for their grief as 
they stood there, silently, tears rolling down their faces. 

Henry DeMille, a dreamy lad given to books and hobbies, 
wanted to be an actor but took a path trod by other DeMilles, 
to the Episcopal vestry. One day he asked his mother, '"What 
would you say to my becoming an actor?" She replied, "It would 
break my heart/* His marriage, at twenty-three, to Mathilda 
Beatrice Samuels was a fusion of two radically different tem- 
peraments. She was a go-getter, afire with ambitions for their 
future and that of their two sons. 

Dutifully, Bill was born in the old family home in Washing- 


ton. Three years later Cecil appeared, prematurely and in 
Yankee country! The bawling nonconformist ignored the date 
set for him by the doctor, arriving at Ashfield, Massachusetts, 
where his father was engaged for the summer in private tutor- 
ing in an effort to help along the family's meager purse. 

Bill was clearly his father s son, cut from the same cloth- 
thoughtful, sensitive, creative. Cecil, on the other hand, was 
obviously a young man in a hurry. He flashed spirit and daring. 
His daydreams had vigor and more often than not a fearsome 
adversary. A friend who had seen them making pictures to- 
gether in the early days of Hollywood touched upon the differ- 
ences between the two. "When Cecil wanted camels in a picture 
he would buy a thousand with golden harness and parade them 
before the camera. Bill would buy one camel and have it psycho- 

Cecil was Mother's boy, from large, strong features to 
his remarkable durability. At one point the family rented a 
house in Echo Lake, New Jersey, for something like $50 a 
year because it supposedly was haunted. Shortly, they left for 
a brief spell and returned to learn that neighbors had heard 
crashing sounds in the place every night. While a curbstone 
conference was in progress, Mrs. DeMille marched past her 
neighbors into the darkened home. In a few minutes she had 
flushed out a tramp, chasing him into the night, brandishing 
her long black umbrella. The vagrant had been enjoying 
Mrs. DeMille's choice preserves, hurling the empty jars at a 
marble clock which he had set up as a target. 

DeMille has recalled a little shakily the time his mother fol- 
lowed him out to Hollywood, around 1914. "She bought the 
biggest, fastest, shiniest Packard and drove it like hell around 
town. Once she almost ran me down." 

There was also the occasion, a few years after her husband's 
sudden and early death, that Mrs. DeMille decided to enroll 
Cecil in a military school in Chester, Pennsylvania, Cecil was 
about fifteen. 

66 yes, Mr. DeMille 

The distance from the home in Pompton, New Jersey, to 
Chester was ninety miles, a good day's ride by coach. This 
Mrs. DeMille rejected. 

Instead, she and Cecil climbed on their bicycles and took 
off down the coach road, arriving late that day. Enrollment 
over, the petite, spirited young widow said good-by to her son 
and pedaled off in the dusk down the dusty road toward 

The DeMille boys got their first taste of drama early in life. 
Through Dan Frohman, Henry DeMille teamed up with David 
Belasco, a struggling young Barnum soon to be crowned the 
Rialto's first great showman. Belasco sparked with ideas and 
Henry DeMille reduced them to writing. Each day they would 
call in Mrs. DeMille and read to her what had been put down 
on paper. 

The two young men worked in a small first-floor room in the 
DeMille home and evenings were quite often devoted to play 
conferences, with the family usually being called in for the 
readings. It was sometimes difficult to get Cecil to sit 
still that long. The future spectacle-maker was not inspired by 
what his father and Belasco were dreaming upintimate social 
exercises such as The Wife, The Charity Ball, Lord Chumley 
and Men and Women. Despite little Cecil's marked disinterest, 
the plays helped start a new era for playgoers of that day, for 
the domestic drama was something new to American audiences. 
During one of these family gatherings DeMille's attention wan- 
dered to a cat that had, quite miraculously it seemed to him, 
strolled down the side of a barn. The boy who was one day 
to stage such cinematic miracles as the siege of Acre and the 
Exodus uttered a squeal of delight and for this outcry his 
father banished him from the scene. On another occasion Cecil, 
having slipped away from a conference, attacked a stand of 
Jerusalem artichokes which his mother was grooming in the 
backyard. Cecil was a fair knight, his stick was a sword, and 
the artichokes were the enemy. The affable malfeasance may 


be charitably interpreted as Cecil's zeal for his life's work, a 
consideration which, were she mindful of it, did not temper the 
sticking he got from his mother. 

Belasco was the son of immigrant Jews. He wore the attire 
of a clergyman, collar and all. It caused considerable comment 
as well as confusion. Some credited the display to showman- 
ship. Belasco, however, traced it to an old Jesuit priest 
named McGuire who befriended him in San Francisco. Father 
McGuire, impressed by the intense young man, arranged for his 
enrollment at the Jesuit college there when he learned the boy 
was too poor to attend. Belasco finished the four years credit- 
ably, and vowed always to wear a Roman collar in appreciation 
of the kindness. 

The Wife, the first play written at Echo Lake by the col- 
laborators, gave a twist to an old formula. A husband discovers 
his wife is unfaithful. Instead of handing her the deed to the 
house and making arrangements for the children, he takes her 
tenderly into his arms and comforts her with offers of help. 

With this bold offering, Dan Frohman launched a permanent 
stock company at the Lyceum Theatre. 

Attendance was poor and grew steadily worse. Each day the 
anxious authors stalked Frohman in his office with fresh en- 
treaties to keep the play open for a few more days. They felt 
it was improving. 

Frohman countered with a ledger of mounting debts. After 
the second week he promised to keep it open one more week, 
continuing it from that point only if it made expenses. 

The two writers began priming and tightening the dialogue 
and action. Attendance picked up, but not enough to satisfy 

One day he sent word to the authors that The Wife was in 

68 Ves, Mr. DeMille 

its final week. An hour later they rushed into his office. They 
begged and pleaded. Frohman sat at his desk, silent, cold- 
eyed. Suddenly Belasco seized the producer by the throat. 

The sight of the priestlike figure dragging Frohman from 
his chair and pinning him down on the floor filled the mild- 
mannered DeMille with terror. 

Egged on by his partner, DeMille grabbed a ruler and the 
two of them threatened to kill Frohman if he didn't keep the 
play going. 

The play, greatly improved by the cutting, went on to post 
218 consecutive performances, yielding a nice profit for the 
management after liquidating a $50,000 debt. Belasco remem- 
bered the collaboration with real pride. '"We were successful 
because our way of thought was similar. We were frank in our 
criticism of each other. Henry excelled in narrative and had a 
quick wit. I acted while he took down my speeches. When a 
play was finished it was impossible to say where his work left 
off and mine began." 

Belasco became the family hero. Bill and Cecil stood as 
sentries in the quiet fields around Echo Lake to herald the 
approach of the man in the Roman collar, the shrill dispatches 
occasioning much bustling about the house. 

He brought the boys gifts, important ones at Christmas. One 
year Belasco penned a note to Cecil: This year a small gift, 
but next year a pony. DeMille kept the note, reminder of a 
boyhood tragedy, "I waited for 365 days, dreaming dreams 
about the pony. I arose that cold Christmas morning almost 
before daybreak. I was sure the pony would be in the barn. It 
wasn't there. Belasco had forgotten all about it. I was stunned. 
I couldn't believe it. I told no one, just suffered in silence for 
days. It taught me a lesson IVe tried to remember all through 
life-keep your promise to a child." 

Cecil was nine when his father died, at thirty-nine, and once 
more the family was faced with the same realities. The future 
had looked unusually bright, for his f ather s work with Belasco 


had just begun to impress itself on the critics. Now creditors, 
not critics, overnight became important in their lives. They 
found a worthy adversary in Mrs. DeMille. The aggressive 
little lady converted the Pompton home into a culture school 
for fashionable young women. Understandably, young actresses 
were among the first to enroll, increasing in such numbers in 
a year or two that the mother pressed both Cecil and Bill into 
service. One of the early pupils, Evelyn Nesbit, remembered 
that Cecil, young though he was, solemnly tackled the mys- 
teries of drawing-room posture and decorum. He taught the 
young ladies how to walk, sit and sip tea, and even offered 
advice in the selection of clothes. 

"He had an artistic flair all right/' Miss Nesbit said, "because 
he could demonstrate how a young kdy could show disdain 
in one gesture by winding her wrap about her hips in a regal 
manner,'* a scene difficult to associate with the man whose 
thunderous roars have reduced thousands to craven silence. It 
provided an answer to one unusual DeMille trait. He took full 
charge of the original designs of all important costumes in his 
productions, even down to a leather thrum on an Indian loin- 
cloth. No designer dared proceed without first getting DeMille's 
initials on the sketch of the costume, male or female. 

"Few of the celebrated girls of New York's musical hits lost 
the opportunity of having a season of social training at this 
Pompton Lake establishment, so far had the reputation of the 
two young men reached into sophisticated Broadway s gossip 
channels," according to one observer. "A raw product could be 
turned out a lady, a show girl could be taught to carry herself 
like an aristocrat, to dine like one, and with much more gruel- 
ing training, she might eventually be taught to speak as one." 

Belasco detected a strain of real creativeness in the DeMilles 
and with Henry's passing he beckoned encouragingly to son 
Bill, in whom he had observed a flair for dramatic situation. 
Bill was doing some work on his own in that quiet way and 

70 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

before long he delighted his father's old friend with some 
creditable ideas. 

Within a few years, Mrs, DeMille made a logical move. She 
opened an office in New York to handle Bill's plays and hold 
herself forth as a mother confessor to young aspirants to the 
stage and advisor to struggling playwrights. Cecil was worked 
into the new life, too, with roles in this and that, but mostly in 
productions that passed through the DeMille Play Agency. 
Cecil had shed the curse of all boys of the era, Lord Fauntleroy 
suit and long curls, but he was not entirely free of the horrible 
tyranny. For some reason, the casting directors tabbed the 
future strong man of the movies as a pretty-boy-in-lace type. 
In perfumed attire and decanting lyrical prose, Cecil pranced 
about the stage in the lead of plays like The Prince Chap and 
Lord Chumley. 

Cecil tried his hand at playwriting and came up with The 
Return of Peter Grimm, or possibly the idea. The authorship 
of that once reigning favorite may never be determined. 
DeMille said Belasco paid him $5,000 for it. Belasco claimed 
he bought an idea only, that he himself constructed the play, 
developed the characters, and wrote the dialogue. 

The dispute got into the papers. Belasco demanded retrac- 
tion of a statement crediting DeMille as part author. "In view 
of the fact that my play has not yet been presented in New 
York and may possibly prove a failure there I think it is only 
fair that I should be held exclusively responsible for my own 

Neither position tallied with Neil McCarthy's memory of the 
matter. McCarthy, for years DeMille's attorney and investment 
associate, said DeMille took the first draft of Grimm to Belasco's 
office. 'Then he would come in once every week or ten days 
and read each new part to Belasco. When he had finished it 
Belasco wanted to produce it but he told DeMille he couldn't 
pay him much because he had practically the same story sent 
him from an author in Germany. There were curtains in 


Belasco's office and while DeMille was reading his play a 
stenographer was behind the curtains taking down every word. 
Belasco wasn't going to put DeMille's name on the program as 
author until DeMille threatened to sue, and then it showed up 
in very fine print." 

In a New York Tribune interview in 1935, David Warfield 
was coaxed into breaking his silence over the Grimm puzzle. 
"Well, Belasco was looking for a play to do when he ran 
across one Cecil DeMille had sent him. DeMille was hard up 
at that time and needed money, so he had taken an old story 
called 'Old Lady Mary/ published in Blackwood's Magazine 
way back in 1875, and made a play out of it. Belasco saw pos- 
sibilities for it and offered to buy it. DeMille agreed, and 
Belasco bought it outright for a small amount. He mulled over 
his new property for a while, fixed it over a little and produced 
it. That's the story of Peter Grimm. We opened in Baltimore 
in 1911, then went to Chicago and finally came to New York 
with it, afterward going on tour. But it didn't draw very well- 
people didn't seem to take to it. In 1921 1 became ambitious, 
fiddled with the thing for a time and was determined to try it 
again. So I did, and the revival was remarkable it went like 

With the collaborator still Belasco, Bill DeMille added some 
luster to the family name by writing plays like The Warrens 
of Virginia, and The Genius. It remained for his brilliant 
daughter Agnes, after much struggle, to have the joy of a per- 
sonal conquest of Broadway some thirty years later. The ballets 
conceived by Agnes DeMille for Oklahoma!, One Touch of 
Venus, Carousel and others were gay, dazzling and new. Her 
choreography introduced an art form in the period of the 
musical comedy's greatest vigor, and quite a number of her ad- 
mirers today happily salute her as the most sensitively creative 
of all the DeMiUes. 

Cecil was nineteen when Dan Frohman gave him $20 a 
week and eight lines in his new play Hearts Were Trumps, a 

72 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

little that yielded much. His eye was drawn to a member of 
the troupe, a pretty miss, genteel and even as a girl with a 
composure that placed soothing reins on his restlessness. Over 
coffee and doughnuts the acquaintance grew into romance. 
They toured the towns, endured the one-night stops with 
Sothern and Marlowe. Two years later, on August 12, 1902, 
Cecil and Constance Adams, daughter of Judge Frederic Adams 
of Orange, New Jersey, were married in New York. 

Hollywood was a decade away, and the years in between 
were to be filled with hardship and job-seeking. DeMille kept 
a reminder of those days-"a badge of poverty," he called it. 
A trolley token! Td walk from 14th Street, New York's theatri- 
cal district then, to 125th Street to save a nickel carfare/' 


THE founding fathers were seasoned warriors. They 
bore the scars of war fought behind closed Hollywood doors. 
Left on carpeted battlefields were the bodies of competitors 
pierced, Brutus-like, by the daggers of power merger, power 
finance and power manipulations. 

Historians have yet to set a serious hand to this free-wheeling 
era. They have been content to leap from peak to peak like 
polite mountain goats, deriving their notion of what actually 
occurred from studio statistics and publicists paid to overpower 
historical fact like roustabouts pegging down a tent flap. 

Others, a quite sizable group, have written their chronicles 
from the recollections of the warriors themselves, who were apt 
to be the kind of historians that warriors usually are, shaping 
history from their own bias. 

For this reason as much as any, Hollywood can boast of some- 
thing the scientific mind usually rejects a multiple birth. Ap- 


patently it entered this life on different dates and in different 
places. If its origin was not multiple, it was at least polygamous. 
No infant has had more fathers, each stoutly claiming sole 
paternity. By casual count this plurality of proud papas totals at 
least a half-dozen. "Mr. A" dates the birth of the industry in 
1914, in an orange grove in Hollywood. "Mr. B" recollected it 
was in New York in 1912. "Mr. C" goes back to the turn of the 
century, in Flatbush. All, at one time or another, have nodded 
politely to such titles as "dean of the industry," "the father of 
motion pictures," "Mr. Hollywood/' "Mr. Motion Pictures. 9 ' And 
each, at one point or another, has issued his version of film his- 
tory containing only passing reference, if any, to any other 

In the DeMille bungalow we had our own version of how it 
all began at a luncheon in the old Claridge Hotel in New York 
Supposedly, there were three people there, although occasion- 
ally a fourth entered these historic proceedings on that summer 
day in 1913, a young lawyer by die name of Arthur Friend. 
Friend, it appears, had a tongue for oratory, though his powers 
of persuasion were being tested that day. He sat at a table 
ringed with pessimism. Friend talked spiritedly about some- 
thing called "flickers." The others, however, just were not 

One was chesty, prematurely bald Cecil DeMille, bit actor 
and fledgling playwright in his early thirties. Up to then his 
ambitions had been rudely jostled on Broadway. 

Another, somewhat less dejected, was Jesse Lasky, ex-cornet 
player and a moderately successful producer of small-time 
vaudeville. Lasky had just put a lot of money into an American 
cabaret version of the famous Folies Berg&re. The unprofitable 
results gave him conclusive evidence that the era was poor in 
critical judgment. Most dispirited was Lasky s brother-in-law, 
Sam Goldfish, later permitted by a Federal court to rechristian 
himself Sam Goldwyn. He was a glove salesman and was re- 

74 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

fleeting darkly on an act of Congress that removed the tariff 
on gloves, virtually killing his business. 

Flickers, said Friend, were developing some real muscle. 
His companions looked up wearily. Moving pictures were a 
fad, and who wanted to waste time on a fad? 

"Fad!" cried Friend, "Look at that Italian picture, Ciberia. 
The Astor is charging $1 a head and they're turning 'em away." 

The air around the table began to improve. Friend pressed 
on, Was it not true that Adolph Zukor bought Queen Elizabeth, 
starring Sarah Bernhardt, and organized his own company, 
Famous Players, to produce movies of important stage plays? 
"And see what he's done with The Prisoner of Zenda" Bern- 
hardt, Hackett, Frohman-magic names on the Rialto! 

The four left the hotel and entered a nickelodeon down the 
street. Twenty minutes later they came out. Friend wore a 
complacent smile; he observed his friends in a close circle, 
silent, nostrils dilating as if they sensed a boom. 

"All those people jammed in there," Lasky murmured. "If 
they'll buy something like that . . ." 

The others nodded. 

"If we can't do better we ought to go back to selling gloves," 
said DeMille, giving Goldfish a friendly pat. 

The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company came into exist- 
ence on paper. They would capitalize at $20,000 if that sum 
could be dredged up. 

Cecil went to his brother Bill. He asked for $5,000, one- 
fourth interest in the firm! 

Bill fixed on his brother a look of mortal disappointment. 

"Think of the family pride," said Bill, pointing out that the 
DeMille roots were deep in the legitimate theater and "you're 
going to use it in some scheme to drag nickels from little 

Not only was ancestral honor in jeopardy, but young Cecil 
was asking for money from a DeMille to hasten its destruction! 
"I've bailed you out of every one of your other schemes,' 


Brother Bill said, truthfully. Til just save my money and pay 
your fare home/' he added, therewith rationalizing himself out 
of an investment which in a few years would have been worth 
two million dollars. 

The others had better luck; still short by several thousands, 
the organizers decided their first picture would be a stage hit of 
that day, Edwin Milton Royle's The Squaw Man. They agreed 
to $5,000 for the rights, with a down payment of $1,000. 

Next they went to Dustin Farnum, a Broadway star, and 
offered a share of the company if he would play the lead. 

Farnum hesitated; theater people were blacklisting anyone 
who got mixed up with flickers. One thing was certain: he did 
not want company stock, but would do it for $1,000 a week 
the first week's salary in advance. Also, he did not want his 
name to appear in connection with the picture. They heatedly 
argued him out of that demand, but agreed to pay the salary. 

With his first male star in tow, DeMille boarded a train for 
the Far West, excited over the reports circulating on Broadway 
about a. place called Hollywood. There, if a person kept his 
wits about him, moving pictures could be completed entirely 
outdoors, summer or winter, under a warm lazy sun. Moving 
out to Hollywood had another singular attraction for the part- 
ners-escape from the powerful trust that was centered in the 
General Film Company. Distance meant safety; under the 
peaceful pepper trees struggling producers would find it easy 
to ignore the trust's many patents that shackled movie making 
in the East. 

In Hollywood, the spirit was militant; an odd assortment 
prowled its orange groves fugitives from the trust, promoters, 
young men with energy and a sensitive eye for plagiarism. 
"Idea" rustling was the order of the day. With movies being 

76 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

filmed against crude backdrops in the open air, it was con- 
sidered wise to erect high fences. Stories were short and extraor- 
dinarily simple. A fairly alert passer-by who watched the shoot- 
ing for a half -hour could get a pretty good idea of the plot. It 
was not uncommon for a producer to enter a theater and unex- 
pectedly see a story he was preparing to release. 

Wasted opportunities were few. In 1919 a fire destroyed a 
good part of the Lasky studio, attracting more than spectators. 
The shooting crews of two rival firms appeared on the scene 
with actors who began indulging in slapstick antics, using the 
blaze as background, while the miserable owners watched the 

The high fences hobbled the efforts of agents of the hated 
trust, on the prowl for illegal use of unlicensed camera equip- 
ment. Thomas E. Edison, one of the more patent-heavy mem- 
bers of the trust, sent a full corps of detectives out in the field 
to check on these creative scamps with a limited respect for 
vested interests. At the approach of an investigator, the pro- 
ducer would spirit his camera into a hiding place, then summon 
his staff into a story conference, as visible proof that the com- 
pany was not in production. In well-policed areas, a producer 
might call as many as five story conferences in a day, each 
materializing suddenly and at the most unusual times. The 
record must contain a sad annotation on those sleuths who ac- 
cepted the offer of a bit part in a movie as the price of their 
loyalty to employers, bribery and larceny being natural hand- 

The Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company arrived in Holly- 
wood in the winter of 1913. DeMille, ever the showman, was 
director-general; back in New York, Goldwyn was treasurer- 
business manager, and Lasky general executive head. There was 
yet one glaring flaw in the setup. They didn't know the first 
thing about writing or directing a motion picture. They sent 
for a producer in New York, Oscar Apfel, who brought his 
cameraman with him. 


By this time movies were big business in the East. One of 
the industry's fathers, Albert E. Smith, was budgeting million- 
dollar pictures at his Vitagraph studio. Adolph Zukor was pay- 
ing stars like Mary Pickford as much as $10,000 a week. The 
public's desire for flickers was already whetted when the Lasky 
company moved into the citrus groves of the sleepy little village. 

Goldwyn instructed DeMille on expenditures. "No long-term 
commitments/' DeMille obeyed to the letter, renting half of a 
barn from a Jacob Stern for $25 a month on a month-to-month 
basis. It sat in the heart of a lemon grove near the present inter- 
section of Hollywood and Vine. The protection of the lemon 
trees was comforting and on one occasion profitable. Losing 
heavily on a picture, the crew was ordered out to harvest the 
lemon crop and recouped its losses. The sewer in Stern's barn 
was on the firm's side, causing the office workers to retreat to 
chairs and high ground when Stern was watering down his 
horses. Two former horse stalls, draped with black cambric, 
were dressing rooms for Farnum and Winifred Kingston, a 
glamorous star of the stage who had come out from New York 
to play the feminine lead. "She was a fine enough trouper. She 
didn't ask what performer last used the dressing room," DeMille 
once recalled. 

The Squaw Man was filmed in three weeks at a cost of 
$15,000, most of its scenes taking place on a set consisting 
of a wooden platform and two walls of canvas with a large 
cotton umbrella serving as a light diffuser. Early that January 
1914, DeMille and his assistants gathered in the barn to screen 
the picture for the first time in edited form. 

Puzzled, angry cries greeted the picture as it began to unreel, 
showing scratches and dark blotches. Obviously the film had 
been gouged, probably with a knife or icepick, and the scratches 

78 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

might have been made by someone pulling the film between 
heel and floor. The sabotage was complete; every foot of the 
5,000 feet of film was useless. 

In business less than two months, the young firm had its first 
taste of the film wars. Refilming would require another $15,000 
and back in New York Lasky and Goldwyn were impatient for 
the picture, for its buyers were waiting. 

There appears to be some divergence in the accounts of the 
episode. Bill DeMille in his admirable account of the early days, 
Hollywood Saga, relates that Goldwyn, Lasky and Friend went 
out and drummed up another $15,000 and DeMille shot the 
picture a second time. 

DeMille, however, rejected this version. "One day shortly 
before we began shooting I saw a worker touch his cigarette 
to a small piece of waste film, It burst into flames, and the 
thought struck me that in a few weeks we would have a fortune 
tied up in a few lengths of highly inflammable film We de- 
cided to shoot every scene twice to have a spare negative, and 
each night I took home an extra can of film, and Mrs. DeMille 
placed it in the attic/' 

Then, when the picture was screened for the first time and 
they saw what had been done to it, "panic seized us. I remem- 
bered the other negative. Suppose it, too, was ruined or stolen! 
I phoned Mrs. DeMille to look quickly into the attic and not 
say a word to anyone. 

"The second negative was safe. I took it to New York, cut 
and edited the film on the train. No sleep for five days but I 
had to finish it/' 

Upon his return to the wild and woolly West, DeMille 
strapped on a gun and holster, and when he drove placed the 
weapon on the seat beside him. In the following weeks he 
twice heard sharp sounds near the studio that closely resembled 
pistol shots, leading to a subsequent biographical note that he 
was fired upon twice. 

Even with its production cost doubled, The Squaw Man 


netted the partners several thousand dollars. Their next effort, 
The Virginian, was made at a cost of $17,000 and returned 
$111,000. Then, and largely since, policy was noted for its 
flexibility. One success started a cycle. The public, having indi- 
cated a preference for a certain picture, was deluged with 
more of the same by producers willing to sacrifice art for 
certain profit. 

In a single year, 1915, DeMille directed fifteen pictures for 
the Lasky company and wrote the script for five of them. By 
modern standards they were simple little exercises but at the 
same time comprised a greater volume of work than one man 
could consistently manage. He began looking about for a 
writing assistant. 

One day a young woman, dark-eyed, no doubt still in her 
late teens, entered the office-barn. She was, DeMille later 
recalled, "a funny little tornado with a nose that turned up, and 
hair that curled up, and a disposition that turned up, too." She 
said her name was Jeanie Macpherson, told him at once that 
she would be willing to work for him and named a price- 
considerably more than the director would dream of paying. 
She said she was an actress, a very good one, and that he would 
be wise to engage her before she left his office. 

DeMille glanced up, looked her over for a minute, and then 
went on with his writing. The youngster began to shift position 
nervously and at the end of about ten minutes she let out an 
explosive "Well!" and stormed out, slamming the door violently. 
DeMille laughed and went on with his writing. 

Two days later she returned. 'Would you apologize to me 
for your rudeness the other day?" adding she had written him 
a letter telling what a frightful person he was. 

Something about the girl's personality fascinated DeMille 

80 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

and when she returned the second time he offered to pay her 
twenty-five dollars a week to take dictation in long hand. "A 
blow in the face would have been more of a compliment. She 
raged and stormed and said she would never think of accepting 
such a thing, and finally I said, Well, if you want to act, I will 
give you just one day's work/ " 

She performed well in a small but important part, and at the 
end of the day was handed ten dollars double the usual rate 
being paid then by the Lasky company. Once more she stormed 
into DeMille's office, threw the money on his desk and reminded 
him that she had been paid $100 a day working for D. W. 
Griffith. That, or nothing, was her price, she said, whereupon 
DeMille obligingly pocketed the money, smiling serenely as 
the young woman angrily departed for the third time. 

Later DeMille called her in for a long talk, and after telling 
her that she did not have the right kind of a face for the screen, 
persuaded her for twenty-five dollars a week to try her hand 
at script writing. He dictated four manuscripts to her and 
after the fourth told her to go home and write the script of his 
fifth picture, "The first thing she had to do was make me a brief 
outline of it. When she brought it in, it was full of mistakes, 
and I hauled her over the coals for each of them. I told her 
that she wrote like a plumber. I am sure I was frightfully 
insulting to her, but that kid took it and plugged along, and I 
think she rewrote the whole thing six times. Jeanie had no 
physical strength but she was like a tarantula when she got her 
fangs into anything you could not shake her loose. During the 
rewriting of that fifth play, I fired her regularly, but it did no 
good, for she would always come back with another version of 
die script. We worked half the night, night after night, and I 
used to keep her at the plant through all that, and she would 
drop from physical exhaustion. One night, after we had worked 
until one or two o'clock and were about ready to go home, I 
missed her, and looked everywhere for her. Finally, I saw a 
foot sticking out from the back of a pile of shingles. I investi- 


gated and found that it belonged to Jeanie. I brought her to 
the office, got a doctor out of bed to revive her, and finally 
delivered her home to her mother done up like a bundle. I did 
that time after time. But she would not give up the work. She 
became my blue-ribbon writer, and I would say that most of 
my plays were written by her, and some were the best original 
stories of her generation. 

Jeanie appeared to have caught considerable of the DeMille 

When it was decided in 1921 to film Alice Duer Miller s novel 
Manslaughter, she left Hollywood and, by means of a petty 
"theft," had herself committed to the Detroit House of Correc- 
tion under the name of Angie Brown. 

The firsthand experiences were to help her write a better 
script from the Miller work, but the escapade was almost spoiled 
by a fatherly Irish policeman escorting her to the institution; 
he offered to pay her bond personally. 

The first night in the House of Correction was enough for 
the self-ordained larcenist. "I was awakened by a peculiar 
crawling sensation that meant but one thing vermin! I prayed 
for daylight. I wanted to scream and beat my head against the 
stone walls of the cell, anything to push them away, I was on 
the verge of panic." 

She told friends later that she made an attempt at escape, 
was caught and returned to her cell for two more days and 

Manslaughter, released in 1922, was a smashing success, cost- 
ing $380,000 and grossing $1,200,000. It was a story of fast 
living, woven around a female hot-rodder (Leatrice Joy) sen- 
tenced to prison for two years after prosecution by her lover, 
the district attorney, who performs the unmanly deed to save 
the girl from herself. It gave Mr. DeMille an opportunity to 
compare the jazzy decadence of the 1920 ? s with Roman times. 
He dramatized Rome's golden era in a flashback showing, as one 
critic put it, "men and women half-stupid with drink in an orgy 

82 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

of pure sense-satisfying pleasure, dancing girls, satyrs springing 
from the walls to join in the revel, and a rider upon a black 
charger who was dressed in skin and followed by a swarm of 
hideous barbarians more like animals than men." The rider was 
Thomas Meighan on his way with a battery of vandals to per- 
form the historic sacking of Rome. 

In this early period DeMille began to entertain a notion that 
the studio was rejecting manuscripts that would have made 
excellent pictures, largely because story readers were young 
or untrained and lacked story sense, He had had a few quarrels 
with the front office over this general problem. One day, to test 
his theory, he asked a secretary to write out in longhand a 
lengthy synopsis of one of Jeanie's scenarios, Male and Female, 
which he was filming at the time on a nearby sound stage. The 
synopsis was turned over to a relative, who in turn mailed it 
to the studio, stating in her letter that she hoped the story was 
good enough for the studio to purchase. The manuscript was 
returned to the sender marked, NOT SUITABLE AS MOTION PICTUBE 


"Can you believe it?" DeMille chortled. "And we were mak- 
ing Male and Female not fifty yards away from the very office 
that turned it down/' With high satisfaction he harangued the 
studio for months, pointing to the incident as an example of 
the sort of thing a director has to put up with from studio 

Though the record is considerably to the contrary, DeMille 
would admit publicly that he had only one disaster in choosing 
his stories. This was an item called Four Frightened People, 
filmed in Hawaii back in 1933 with Claudette Colbert and 
Herbert Marshall. The picture cost $500,000 and had to gross 
one million dollars in order to break even. A studio executive 
wired DeMille after seeing an opening showing: JUST SAW 


PEOPLE. Loss on the picture was around $750,000. 
Reviewing her lengthy association with DeMille, having 


written probably half of his seventy pictures alone or in col- 
laboration, Jeanie looked upon DeMiUe's blunt and cold atti- 
tude as an armor for "an extremely sensitive nature." She said 
he wanted to make friends but didn't quite know how to go 
about it. "Actors didn't like him, and I have seen them tremble 
before his sarcasm and often cry with humiliation. But they 
unfailingly blamed themselves. He would forgive anyone any- 
thing if a person would only admit his error. But try to tell 
him that the other fellow was to blame, or insinuate another 
department was responsible for your blunder, and you were 
in serious trouble with him," 

She died on the eve of her thirty-first year with DeMille, 
during the filming of Unconquered in 1946. He had kept her 
on part time salary through the later years, allowing her to sit 
with writers occasionally during the early conferences on a 
story. The industry had surged beyond her era, production was 
complex, and it was no longer possible or economic for a 
director and a single writer to team up on a series of pictures. 

There is reason to believe tastes of film patrons have ma- 
terially changed since Jeanie MacPherson's era. The stories of 
the 1900's reaped undeniably handsome rewards, but no doubt 
would send present-day audiences fleeing from the theater. 
Don t Change Your Husband, made in 1918 and praised by the 
critics for its "finished workmanship," was a story of marital dis- 
content enlivened by Elliott Dexter, Gloria Swanson, Lew 
Cody, Theodore Roberts and Sylvia Ashton. This $17,000 epic, 
written by DeMille and Jeane Macpherson, grossed more than 
$200,000. Its plot is typical of the type that shaped careers and 
seeded huge fortunes in that era: 

Leila is married to James Porter, a glue king. James has lost 
his waistline. He flips ashes on the rugs, eats onions and 

84 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

generally offends Leila in just about everything he does. 
So, she discards James and marries Schuyler van Sutphen, 
who is wealthy, too. 

Schuyler is a fashion plate and dances divinely. But he has 
eyes for women other than Leila. And as he philanders he 
drinks. Now, Leila has to put up with the smell of liquor 
instead of onion, and her Kfe is no longer happy. 
One day James reappears. Lo and behold he is not the old 
James; he is slim around the waist, he smokes cigars with 
a holder, his mustache is gone. A very attractive chap, in- 
deed, and still with money, too. So Leila takes him back, 
fashioned splendidly to her tastes. 

This proved out so profitably that DeMille did a switch. In 
Why Change Your Wife?, the wife is the bore and the husband 
finds diversion in a pleasure-loving flapper whom he ultimately 
marries, then sheds upon discovery that she is a worse house- 
hold drudge than the original missus. 

There was a tug at the public heartstrings in the plight of a 
poor seamstress in Forbidden Fruit, an original DeMille melo- 
drama. A distracted hostess finds she is one person short at her 
fancy dinner party, and presses the seamstress into service as 
a substitute guest. The little Cinderella turns into a radiant 
charmer, and is energetically courted by her handsome and 
wealthy dinner partner. The chap doesn't know the girl is mar- 
ried. She is, though, and to a grisly brute who "openly trades 
her for money," as the subtitle discreetly puts it. The seamstress 
suffers real torment shall she follow the finer life or shall she 
return to that husband? in the following interplay of triangular 
love, murder and robbery. 

The receipts from The Virginian shone like a caliph's jewels. 
The studio had big plans for original stories, but these were 
jettisoned, and the struggle for stage plays was on. Zukor's 
company with its motto, Famous players in -famous plays, was 
profiting from its tie-in with Dan Frohman, and was at the 
moment trying to make a similar arrangement with David 


Belasco. For a movie company, there was power and unlimited 
profit in the supply of plays controlled by either of these two 
giants of Broadway. Goldwyn wrangled an appointment with 
Belasco through the latter' s secretary, afterward describing 
his meeting with the fiery impresario: "His entrance was a 
dramatic as that of a hero in one of his own plays. The majestic 
head with its mop of white hair sunk a trifle forward, the one 
hand carried inside his coat, as slowly without a word he de- 
scended the stairs to greet me." The deal was made, a triumph 
for Goldwyn and his firm. For a $25,000 advance against 50 per 
cent of the profits, Belasco surrendered the rights to his plays. 
The Lasky company now preened itself with such sensations 
as the Belasco hits The Girl of the Golden West and Rose of 
the Rancho, turning quickly to other "legitimate" successes: 
The Man from Home, The Warrens of Virginia, Kindling, 

Public desire for pictures in this period was insatiable, a 
situation made vastly more attractive to producers by the fact 
that the required skill did not go much beyond setting a camera 
and aiming it at an established stage play. 

In his first year in pictures DeMille produced seven films, 
profits from one being applied to the next. The seven cost 
$106,793 and yielded $510,724, thus stimulating the Lasky 
firm's appetite for increased production. 

The Girl of the Golden West was filmed in eight days for 
$15,109. Theodore Roberts played Jack Vance, and Mabel Van 
Buren the girl, in a manner pleasing enough to draw $102,224 
from the patrons, a kingly profit. 

The following year the studio struck out in earnest. New 
directors were hired, and Director-General DeMille gave the 
first hint of what power was stored in that sturdy frame. With 
something approaching Jovian fervor he wrote, produced and 
directed, on several occasions performing all three tasks for 
the same picture, completing a picture a month. By the end of 
the year, thirteen DeMille productions had rolled out of the 

86 les, Mr. DeMille 

barn. When complications developed on The Golden Chance 
with Edna Goodrich and a $100-a-week unknown named 
Wally Reid, DeMille took it over, too, working on his own 
picture The Cheat in the daytime and shifting to the other at 

He was not unduly taxed by the experience. The Cheat cost 
$17,000 and grossed $137,000, the firm's highest single picture 
gain to that date. Also, it introduced to a now rabidly star- 
conscious public two new favorites, Fanny Ward and Sesue 
Hayakawa, the Japanese pantomimist. 

The company, no longer struggling, was bulging with confi- 
dence inspired by large profits. In Hollywood there has been 
nothing quite as effective as profit in transforming businessmen 
into self-acknowledged artists overnight. 

Fanny Ward was a Goldwyn "find/' one of his first efforts 
at scouting creative talent. He sent her out to DeMille, who 
was not impressed with the newcomer and wired Goldwyn to 
that effect. Miss Ward stormed back to New York and showered 
some plain talk down on Mr, Goldwyn's head, which now had 
a set to it. He replied by offering her the leading role in The 
Cheat, and sent her back to the Coast. The air on the set was 
extravagantly cool, nor was it improved much by an accident 
in the course of the filming. Miss Ward, outfitted in costly 
ermine and a Parisian gown and hat, was padding lightly over a 
footbridge when it collapsed, chucking the graceful star into 
three feet of water. Miss Ward continued her stardom under 
other auspices; successful though it was, The Cheat was her 
only picture under the DeMille banner. 

Though it was difficult, if not impossible, for a properly 
marketed picture to lose money in those days, DeMille was 
not one to take his responsibilities lightly. Even then he 
cast his stories only after much study of the demands of each 
part, a policy that conflicted horribly with the free-wheeling 
methods of the day. Players hired in the East were fired in the 
West. Eastern executives were denounced by western pro- 


ducers. Goldwyn was in the heart of a rich player market, New 
York itself, and was taking advantage of it. He sent out 
Marguerite Clark and Blanche Sweet, later Edna Goodrich and 
Thomas Meighan. Marguerite Clark starred in The Goose Girl 
and was in almost constant discord with her director, Fred 
Thompson. When Goldwyn wired DeMille to find out how the 
picture was faring he received the reply: DON'T KNOW MUCH 


Meighan, DeMille took one look at the actor's first performance 
before the cameras and telephoned the verdict: "Tommy no 
good/' Goldwyn was in San Francisco when he received this 
startling word and entrained for Los Angeles immediately to 
see that nothing happened to the actor's contract. * 

The tug-of-war between creative intellects in the West and 
business intellects in the East took curious turns. Taking a cue 
from D. W. Griffith's experiments with "effect lighting," DeMille 
borrowed a large lamp from the old Mason Opera House and 
directed it in such a manner that only one-half of the hero's 
face was visible, leaving the other half effectively in shadow. 
Excited over the dramatic effect, DeMille sent the picture to 
Goldwyn. A few days later came a frantic wire: CECIL, YOU'VE 


normal pangs of trail blazers, fumed over the predicament for 
hours, then suddenly was struck with an inspired reply to the 


wire from Goldwyn: CECIL, YOU ARE WONDERFUL, 



AN idea had been lurking in the mind of Cecil 
Blount DeMille for a long time. A "western" with Israelites 
instead of cowboys! Pioneers trekking westward was Holly- 
wood's richest plot vein, and it did not matter much what the 
variations were sheepherders plaguing cattlemen, Indians 
plaguing new settlements, bad white men plaguing good white 
men, the hard life vs. determined heroine fresh from big city, 
the. countryside vs. "the dirty railroaders," and on, on and on. 

If Brigham Young went West, DeMille reasoned, why not 
Moses? The people of Israel yearned for a land of hope, too, 
but on top of that escaped from the degrading cruelties of the 
Egyptians. Moses would provide two big dips of melodrama. 

It was spring, 1923. The public was clamoring for spectacle 
on the screen. James Craze had released The Covered Wagon, 
a biggie costing $800,000. In its sensational wake Wagon left 
behind one inescapable truth for DeMille the world was ready 
for the brand of spectacle he long had dreamed of making. 
And now he had the format, an epic version of Moses and the 
flight from Egypt. Its title, The Ten Commandments. A differ- 
ent "western" and a spectacle in the same exciting package! 

He tested the idea on a few minor officials. They were under- 
standably startled. 

It meant a Bible story of major proportions cast loose amid 
the risky shoals of the bubbling 1920's, an era of whims and 
high revelry. 

It did not seem quite the time for a deeply religious theme. 

DeMille was aware that Paramount had not invested in the 
Testaments Old or New, not on this scale, anyway. He went 
directly to Adoph Zukor, the mighty mite of Paramount, shrewd, 


tough-willed, 110 pounds of business agility. DeMille set forth 
his idea gently so as not to roil the little prexy. 

For a moment it appeared a reaction might be stirred up 
second only to Bikini. 

"The story of Moses! The Exodus!" Zukor flushed and slumped 
into his chair, an action capable of causing a man of his size 
to disappear from view. From the leathery depths came a moan 
of disbelief. "Old men wearing tablecloths and beards! Cecil, 
a picture like this would ruin us." 

DeMille essayed the hope the studio would advance a budget 
in keeping with a project of this dimension. 

"How much?", asked Zukor, stiffening. 

"A million dollars," said DeMille. 

If mere mention of the nature of the project had engulfed 
the executive, the new demand left him speechless. 

Before Zukor could recover, DeMille was spewing arguments 
like an uncorked Vesuvius: Egypt ... the glory of the Pharaohs 
... the children bf Israel in bondage . . . thousands toiling in the 
desert under the grinding heel of slavery . . . Moses pleading 
for their liberation . . . Moses leading them forth ... a nation on 
the march . . . men, women, children, animals , . . Pharaoh's war 
chariots in pursuit ... the Israelites standing at the Red Sea . , . 
death in the waters or capture 

His eyes were shining. "Think of it," he cried, "Well be the 
first studio in history to open and close the Red Sea!" 

Sunk in morose silence, Zukor came to life at this dreamy 
ejaculation, "Or maybe," he said, "the first director to open 
and close Paramount." 

DeMille did not have in mind a religious picture in the usual 
sense. The Ten Commandments would be a story of sin and 
there would perforce be scenes showing plenty of sinning. This 
would give it "mass appeal," an elusive ingredient which some- 
how makes that which is artistic also profitable. 

The orgy before the Golden Calf was planned as the key 

90 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

scene. In preparing for it DeMille thumbtacked on his walls 
vivid sketches of dancing girls with undraped bosoms. Visitors 
learned that the costume designs were authentic Biblical art 
taken right out of the old masters. These samples of classical 
exposure may have eased front-office tension a little, but Para- 
mount had its fingers stoutly crossed: a religious argosy in 
times of sex and bootleg booze had a suicidal ring about it. 

DeMille ordered 3,000 costumes of ancient design and 
$18,000 worth of harness for the horses which would draw three 
hundred war chariots of the Pharaoh. This, according to 
DeMille publicists, was "the largest order for chariots in 1,700 
years." For the Pharaoh, who would drive the lead chariot in 
the big pursuit scene, DeMille required something more than 
ordinary horseflesh. He paid $5,000 for a pair of black thorough- 
breds found in Kansas City after a considerable search. 

A hundred dancing girls went to work at the studio on 
routines for the Calf of Gold revel. Meanwhile, a vivacious 
globe-trotter named Florence Meehan was dispatched to the 
Middle East with authority to buy up jeweky and costumes of 
the correct vintage. Miss Meehan's shipments filled a studio 
storage room silks, swords, tiger skins, tapestries, earrings, 
embossed plates, rubies from the famous mine at Magot, Burma, 
and a 1,000-year-old suit of Persian armor, and numberless 
geegaws for dressing the sets. 

DeMille called in a casting director and told him he wanted 
225 orthodox Jewish persons. "I don't want them to be able 
to speak a word of English." 

The man looked a little uncertain; where would he get them? 

"I don't care, that's your problem," said DeMille. "Palestine, 
Turkey, Russia. I want 'em to chant like their ancestors, like 
in Moses' time/ 7 

Advertisements with these specifications appeared in the 
daily press, and a booth was set up in a vacant lot at the edge 
of downtown Los Angeles. The harried casting director got his 
quota after much wrangling with swarms of applicants, and 


daily needling from policemen for tying up traffic in the area. 
Included in the haul were several Yemenites from one of the 
most primitive branches of Hebraic stock. They were visitors 
in the city and agreed to prolong their stay indefinitely for a 
chance to appear in a story about Moses. 

It was in the midst of these preparations that DeMille was 
struck by the necessity of a $25,000 organ for his ranch, Para- 
dise. The porch skirted two sides of the house, at two points 
dipping around the trunks of huge oaks rising unmolested 
through holes in the floor. The thought of organ music floating 
out to guests dining under the oaken boughs sent him on the 
trail of the organ. The Ten Commandments made the whole 
idea plausible; he contracted with the studio for its use in 
composing the music for the picture. The proceeds from this 
arrangement enabled him to defray a good part of the cost, 
apart from providing the composers with a haven far removed 
from the vulgar lay atmosphere of Hollywood. 

As a location for filming the Biblical half of the story (the 
other half has a modern setting in San Francisco), DeMille 
chose barren sand dunes near Guadalupe, some 200 miles from 
Los Angeles, a rolling waste swept by strong winds from the 
nearby Pacific. Much deliberation at the scene took place before 
Guadalupe was chosen. DeMille and his staff paced the length 
of the dunes to determine whether they were long enough for 
the proposed line of escape of the Israelites. Once he shouted 
to an assistant, startling sun bathers, "We'll bring Moses and 
his followers down to this spot and head 'em into the ocean 
in May 1923, he led 3,500 people and 6,000 animals to 
Guadalupe. The throng cast its eyes on a strange sight. Before 
them, standing with grotesque complacence on the desert 
wasteland, was a replica of a segment of the ancient temple of 
Rameses II. The great entrance was approached by an avenue 
of twenty-four sphinxes, each weighing four tons. Off to the 
right lay the encampment, row on row of pup tents. The tent 

92 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

city would house, feed and entertain the players during those 
off-the-set moments when the Israelites were not praying 
plagues down on the heads of their oppressors. The nerve center 
was the DeMille tent, sitting Monticello-like atop a knoll, 
furnished in grand Egyptian style with oriental rugs and a huge 
bed with snake-head posters. As one of the star actresses in the 
cast, Julia Faye, recalled, "He was up there all by himself. 
We were all living in the city down below. I guess it did give 
him a feeling of everything/' 

The camp was run on a strict military basis. Reveille was 
sounded at 4:30. Players dressed and put on their make-up 
before breakfast at 6 A.M. The population was broken into 
companies and platoons, with a captain and lieutenant in 
charge of each. The chain of command went from these minor 
functionaries to a score of assistant directors, and ended with 
DeMille. He was not so much the final arbiter as the only one. 
Important players like Theodore Roberts, Charles de Roche, 
Estelle Taylor and Julia Faye went directly to him with their 
problems, though entree to DeMille's tent was not easily 
achieved, even by the stars. On one occasion Roberts in flowing 
robes of the patriarchal Moses, and James Neill, garbed as 
Aaron, cooled their heels outside the tent for more than an 
hour. Finally the patience of the bearded patriarch broke. Rising 
to his full imposing height, Neill collared a perspiring slave 
about to enter the producer's tent and bellowed, "Tell God that 
Moses and Aaron are waiting without!" 

In the matter of expenditures, DeMille had gotten up a 
fine head of steam; bills poured into the studio. Thrice daily, 
the producer was feeding nearly 10,000 mouths-3,500 human, 
6,000 animal. Among the latter were some healthy appetites, 
including 900 horses and 200 burros, as well as a Noah's Ark 
assortment of small farm animals and fowl which could not 
be expected to scratch much nourishment from the sand dunes. 
With this picture, as with others, DeMille rarely took time off 


to placate the studio brass. "God save me from the tyranny of 
the executive mind" was, in variable form, a pet motto. 

Generally, what information the executives were able to eke 
out resulted from informal spying or quizzing a DeMille sub- 
ordinate. They watched the requisitions flow into the studio 
from the sand dunes. One was especially irksome; it set forth 
food requirements for a single day: 750 pounds of sugar, 50 
pounds of coffee and tea, 4,000 eggs, 900 pounds of butter, 
1,500 pounds of meat, 150 gallons of canned fruit 

The $5,000 paid out for the span of black stallions for the 
Pharaoh's chariot was almost the final indignity. 

An angry executive waved the invoice in DeMille's face. 

"Are you trying to ruin us? You have spent a million dollars 
and the picture is only half finished!" 

At this time Zukor, Jesse Lasky and DeMille each were draw- 
ing $3,500 weekly from the firm, Famous Players-Lasky. Zukor 
and Lasky shared also in the firm's profits, an exclusion that 
nettled DeMille. 

DeMille's attorney, Neil McCarthy, went to see Zukor, who 
greeted the visitor with something less than a faint smile. 

"Cecil is trying to break us," said Zukor, adding bitterly, 
"Religious pictures! Long dresses on men!" 

"Will you sell the picture?" McCarthy asked. 

Zukor was not unprepared for this shift. "My god, can you 
get me the money? Ill sell it at cost, one million dollars." 

Both knew there was nothing binding at that point. McCarthy 
was interested in knowing just how wrought up Zukor was 
over the venture, and Zukor was intent on finding out just what 
would prompt a man to pay one million dollars for a half- 
finished picture. 

DeMille now faced the task of raising a million dollars. He 
sent McCarthy to see Joe Schenck, the 20th Century-Fox 
board chairman. Schenck put up $250,000. DeMille visited a 
short time with the raw-film magnate,' Jules Brulatour, and 

94 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

emerged with another $250,000 pledge. So far, so good, but the 
last half-million is always the toughest. 

There was good reason to believe that they might get an 
attentive ear in at least one quarter-the most powerful banking 
interest in America, ruled over by the legendary Giannini 

Indeed, DeMille boasted a close relationship with Papa 
Giannini, the famed "A.P." 

It dated back several years when DeMille undertook what 
turned out to be a ticklish part-time job running a bank's 
movie-loan department! Putting a film producer in the position 
of making loans to other film producers might appear to be 
the act of a deranged mind, but it was in truth a shrewd move- 
when one considered the fiber of a man like DeMille. 

Moreover, the banks at the time, 1915-20, put "the movie 
crowd" in a bracket not far removed from counterfeiters. Loan 
officers had a standing order, "Watch out for those movie pro- 
ducers/' In some banks, a request for a movie loan caused a 
stir comparable to a hold-up alarm. 

The turning point in this attitude came quickly enough; word 
got about that some of the studios were handling two or three 
million dollars quarterly. It struck financiers as a lot of money 
to be circulating without the customary 6 per cent participation 
on their part. 

The Commercial National Bank set up a motion picture 
branch at the corner of Cherokee and Hollywood. They placed 
DeMille in charge of loans, the first such arrangement in Holly- 
wood banking circles. It fixed on the youthful producer the 
awesome responsibility of deciding which film maker was "good 
for a loan," a position not likely to widen his circle of producer 
friends. They gave him a brass plate bearing his name, and 
authorized him also to sign $10 bills, U. S. currency, a privilege 
which he always regarded as one of the most delightful of his 
life. "It gave me a wonderful Comptroller of the Currency 


feeling/ 7 he said, adding, "In time it gave rise to a nasty rumor 
that DeMille has the first dollar he ever signed." 

Eventually, the Commercial National was taken over by 
the Bank of America, then the Bank of Italy, which was owned 
by the Gianninis. Papa Giannini had begun to build his chain- 
bank empire, based on the premise that at every intersection 
where there were two filling stations there should be one bank. 

Analyzing the Commercial National's movie-loan policies, 
the Gianninis shuddered. They were almost savagely opposed 
to loans without collateral; money on a house or motorcar- 
something that the bank could reach out and touchthat was 
one thing, but handing out money on intangibles like movie 
scenarios or a producer's reputation! 

The rules tightened. Giannini told DeMille that all unreason- 
able movie loans would be his, DeMille's, personal liability, and 
he, Giannini, would decide what constituted an unreasonable 

Those who were not able to get money out of the Commercial 
National agreed the situation had worsened, but not much. 
DeMille continued to dole out loans sparingly. The Gianninis 
soon saw his judgment was a good thing to have around a bank. 
DeMille had an admirable respect for other people's money, 
plus a sixth sense for sizing up an applicant DeMille's lawyer 
once remarked that Cecil "could tell by the lines in a man's face 
if his credit was any good." 

During his relatively brief banking career, none of his de- 
cisions backfired. And only one threw him into serious combat 
with the explosive, hard-fisted A.P, It arose out of a $200,000 
loan to Sam Goldwyn, made some time after Goldwyn had 
resigned from the Lasky firm. 

A.P. had turned down Goldwyn's application for a loan. 

DeMille knew this but okayed it anyway. 

In a few days he received a summons to appear in A.P/S 
executive offices in San Francisco. DeMille by now was achiev- 
ing something of a reputation of his own as a combatant in 

96 Jes 9 Mr. DeMitte 

the film wars, capable of rendering worthy opponents hors de 
combat. Nevertheless, he was aware he was entering the den 
of a seasoned warrior. For a moment A.P.'s manner was 

"You knew I refused that loan/' 

"Yes," said DeMille. 

"Then why did you give it?" roared A.P. 

"Sam is a great producer, that's why." Then yelling back, 
"Now just a minute. If I'm just window dressing for your bank 
in Los Angeles I'm going to resign. If I stay I'm going to make 
a noise like a bank official!" 

A,P. told him to calm down. "You're no figurehead," he said, 
obviously relishing DeMille's boldness. 

Goldwyn got the $200,000, promptly paid the loan and the 

Even with this past relationship, DeMille could not be sure 
he had the right to expect the Bank of America to advance him 
a half -million dollars in his present situation. He would be ask- 
ing Giannini to pledge this sum of money in circumstances 
riddled with controversy, on a picture as The Ten Command- 
ments was badly crippled and only partly finished. 

Also, he was aware of Giannini's ever vigilant sense of 
economy, as well as his cautious attitude toward film people. 

There was one mildly favorable factor: McCarthy had known 
Giannini before his banking days, having acted as counsel for 
him when the family was in the vegetable business. McCarthy 
also helped A.P. buy banks. 

It was decided that McCarthy would stalk the financial 

The lawyer decided his approach would be quick and blunt. 

"I want a half million dollars," McCarthy said, girding him- 
self for a Giannini thunderclap. 


"Have you prepared a statement?" asked the banker, eyes 
cold as marble. 

"I haven't got time. It would take a month/' 

"Is the company good for it?" 

"It's DeMille," said McCarthy, playing his trump card. 

Giannini's manner relaxed instantly. 

"You can have twice as much as any statement will justify. 
I know DeMille." 

This accomplished, McCarthy sent a wire to Zukor in New 


Twenty-four hours passed, and no word from Zukor. Where- 
upon DeMille went to Lasky. Frank Garbutt, a Paramount 
board member, was with him. DeMille removed a check from 
an envelope and placed it on Lasky's desk. 

"There's your money," said DeMille. "One million dollars. 
Take it and the picture is mine.'* 

DeMille's recollections of the occasion were always accom- 
panied by a big owlish grin. "Lasky couldn't believe we had 
raised the money. He called up Zukor in New York, and pretty 
soon there was quite a conversation going on. Garbutt was 
sitting there saying nothing. Lasky looked at him, expecting 
him to say something and pretty soon Garbutt did. He said, 
'Jesse, have you seen any of the film Cecil has shot?' Lasky said 
no, and Garbutt said, 'Jesse, never sell anything you haven't 
seen.' Lasky repeated this remark to Zufcor on the phone and 
it was all over. They wouldn't sell." 

Zukor made one more move, attesting to a high financial 
acumen that has distinguished his long career in motion pic- 
tures. He had McCarthy's telegram, which expressed one mil- 
lion dollars' worth of confidence in a Paramount picture, and 
an unfinished one at that. He went to the bankers who had 
been shying away of late from granting the studio any loans 
for new products. Zukor twitted them for their lack of faith 

98 Jes> Mr, DeMille 

in his firm, then flourished the telegram. The bankers were 
impressed; Zukor got his loan. 

DeMille was up to something else that worried the partners 
his flying around in airplanes. In the early 20's a nonmilitary 
flight was considered as silly and dangerous as a lunar flight 
today. DeMille had learned flying from the best stunt man of 
the day, Al Wilson. Wilson owned an old discarded Curtiss 
biplane, unusable by anyone except the extraordinarily brave. 

On the day DeMille showed up for his first lesson Wilson was 
working frantically trying to get the rickety crate aloft, sensing 
a fare. After several hours, Wilson pleaded with the young 
man to return tomorrow. DeMille did return, but the Curtiss 
wouldn't start that day either. 

Wilson heard about a Jenny that had crashed in Canada, 
killing its owner. He contacted the widow, who asked $5,000. 

Wilson went to DeMille with a proposition. "Tell you what. 
You put up the money and Til fix the plane. We'll go into the 
aviation business. Ill carry passengers and do exhibition work, 
and we'll split fifty-fifty. And you'll have a good plane to learn 
to fly in." 

DeMille never missed a lesson. He took time off from his 
movie work to buzz around the field, now part of Wilshire 
Boulevard's present Miracle Mile section. 

Soon Wilson was taking Hollywoodians up at $10 a trip, $25 
if the passenger wanted a tailspin or nose dive. The charge for 
a full course was $500. The partners took in as much as $750 
a week. 

A few months later, DeMille and Wilson formed the Mercury 
Aviation Company which, according to its owners, was the 
first airline in America to carry passengers for hire between 
Los Angeles and San Diego, about 1920. 


In a lead editorial that year, Hearst's L.A. Examiner praised 
DeMille "for Ms enterprise in bringing to this city a fleet of 
all-metal aeroplanes/ 7 It urged Los Angeles to take note of this 
new industry and "quickly prepare to get into the game/' 

When DeMille began flying for pleasure, his nonflying asso- 
ciates, Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky, came frequently out to 
the grounds. Glumly they stood side by side, their heads tracing 
a slow circle as they watched the course of the frail plane. 

Lasky and Zukor reflected on what would happen to their 
picture investment should one of the wings snap off. 

"One hundred thousand dollars flying around up there with- 
out a parachute/' moaned Lasky. Jouncing to a stop, DeMille 
tried to taunt his partners into taking a ride but received only 
horrified looks. The studio was greatly relieved when the 
aviation company, feeling growing competition at a time when 
it was getting less and less of DeMille's attention, gave up to 
its creditors holding claims totaling $300,000. 


THE studio couldn't have picked a worse time to 
badger DeMille over costs. The producer was working his own 
miracles in directing, mothering and policing the biggest loca- 
tion in the industry's experience. Riding personal herd on his 
many charges, DeMille had troubles enough without the studio 
sniping from the rear. DeMille's willingness to pay a fortune 
for the picture sharply overhauled executive attitudes, and the 
entire venture took on a much rosier hue. 
For everyone, that is, except DeMille, 

With every Biblical picture, he faced unusual risks. Not the 
least was scandal. One breath would cripple his venture at the 

100 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

very start. It was a daily specter, what with columnists conning 
the grounds for little morsels. "Aaron and Pharaoh's wife were 
seen in an arm-in-arm stroll along the beach/' one gossip 
columnist quipped. 

Guadalupe was cursed with biting offshore winds and sand 
that stung and annoyed the players. Many wore veils to protect 
make-up. The netting cramped Theodore Roberts' cigar smok- 
ing, so he cut a hole in the veil and moved contentedly among 
his people, a magnificent figure in flowing robes trailed by an 
acrid plume of black smoke. One day a clipping reached 
DeMille with a headline, MOSES SMOKES BLACK CIGARS, and a 
story chiding Roberts for adding something new to the Inspired 
Word. DeMille thrust the clipping into the hands of an assistant 
and dispatched him to Roberts' tent with the stern imprecation, 
"Tell Moses to cut out that goddamn nicotine in public!" It 
was the custom on DeMille's set to refer to players by their 
cast names to help to instill the feeling that they were not 
playing the character, they were the character, 

DeMille took every practical step to prevent any naughty 
behavior at Guadalupe that might reach the newspapers and 
harm his costly sally into austere Old Testament times. He let 
the cast know that if there was any sinning he wanted it done 
in front of the camera, not behind it. 

The tent city was laid out in streets with a sort of plaza in 
the middle. The men were quartered on one side and the 
women on the other. Thirty men were deputized by DeMille 
into what came to be known as the Sex Squad, with instructions 
to report any mischief, however innocent it might appear. No 
man and woman were permitted to be seen together after 
7 P.M., except at the recreation tent. 

This social center was known as "Pop's Place." There, every 
night, tent flaps shuddered and tent poles trembled under the 
non-Hebraic blasts of a four-piece jazz band. Held at bay all 
day, the players cut loose at night, shifting from ancient wails 
to modern ditties. Only serious illness was warrant for a man 


to cross the line into the women's part of the town. When 
Theodore Roberts fell ill, Mrs. Roberts was summoned by tele- 
graph. "She wasn't allowed at first to visit me/' Roberts re- 
called, "until they thought I might die of pneumonia, and then 
I was removed to a hospital/' 

Aware of the appeal of the moon on the Pacific, DeMille's 
deputies patrolled the beach area for questionable behavior not 
called for in the script. It did not appear that any sandy 
sybarites were taken into custody, but several raids were made 
on necking bouts of very high amperage. No distinctions were 
made, young swains honorably bent on a salt-sprayed romance 
were ordered to break it up. 

All problems, however small, claimed DeMille's attention. 
His tirelessness was readily seen in his reluctance to transfer 
the right of final approval to other shoulders. It was a rare 
moment during production when a queue of nervous servitors 
did not trail off from his office door, dutifully lined up for the 
moment of inquisition. 

This deep wellspring of energy was pressed to somewhere 
near capacity during the desert bivouac of The Ten Command- 
ments. The toughest scene in the picture from a director's 
standpoint was the pursuit by Pharaoh's war chariots. It re- 
quired mass movement, in addition to speed and turbulence, 
an episode combining the more vigorous moments of Ben Hur 
and the charge of the Valkyries. There were some 300 drivers 
in the scene, the opening shot calling for a plunge by six 
chariots over a 200-foot embankment. The helmeted Egyptians 
(actually cowboys from San Jose) were going about the affair 
in a prudent manner. They took the precipitous slope at a 
speed that would meet traffic safety standards anywhere, but 
not DeMille's. He went into a bitter and choleric rage with 
each rehearsal "Don't you people understand? The Egyptians 
were making a death drive here." The phrase sank deeper than 
DeMille had intended. The cowboys shook their heads. Too risky. 

102 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

DeMille's eye caught his daughter, twelve-year-old Cecelia, 
who had been charging across the desert on her young roan. 
"Show them how you do it, sweetie," said DeMille. The pretty 
redhead rode briskly to the top of the grading, turned and urged 
her mount down the hill at a full gallop. The crowd cheered 
as the sand flew from dangerous furrows. The cow hands 
skulking at the fringes returned gingerly to their chariots. 

Best loved among the camp's apostles was an elongated 
Negro lad named Sam. He played the role of one of Pharaoh's 
Nubian slaves. His reverence for DeMille took on almost oper- 
atic proportions. Each morning Sam greeted DeMille outside 
the latter s tent with a low bow. To all inquiries regarding his 
part in the picture he replied, "Workin' for Mistah DeMille/' 
Once he was pressed as to the exact nature of the part. "Ah 
don't know but my name is Nubian," he said. 

When the time came DeMille personally coached Sam for 
his big scene. 

"You see, Sam, you're tired, It's very quiet and you're lying 
here dozing." Sam grinned approvingly. 

"And then," DeMille continued, "a lion comes up and licks 
the soles of your feet." 

Sam sat upright. For the first time his eyes lost that glaze of 
ritualistic affection for the producer. 

"All right, let's try it," said DeMille brusquely. 

But Sam was no longer in the vicinity, last observed shuffling 
across the sand dunes toward Los Angeles, loincloth and all. 
Stung by the defection, DeMille delayed the scene until a 
braver, even though less affectionate, substitute could be 

Among the Yemenites was one who repeatedly approached 
DeMille on matters of canonical propriety. He would object 
to certain rituals, saying they were in conflict with the Torah. 
And each time the solemn Yemenite indicated he was willing 
to straighten out the script on these points. Lacking time for 
academic discussion, DeMille made him a technical advisor, 


thus adding to his rate of pay. A studio interpreter was assigned 
to the man and was told to make the same reply, no matter 
what the complaint: "Mr. DeMille understands and thanks you. 
He will give your proposal serious study/' Under this courteous 
treatment the Yemenite enjoyed himself immensely the re- 
mainder of the time. 

DeMille suffered less from calculated risks than from minor 
oversights, despite the fact he mounted his productions on a 
tremendous framework. The script called for a scene showing 
Israelites walking along a stretch of beach. This would appear 
in the picture as the path over which they escaped through 
the Red Sea. It had to be shot exactly at high noon in order 
that there would be no shadows on the ground. A few minutes 
before noon someone made a startling discovery, the beach 
was dry! If the waters had parted for the fugitives, the river 
bed would be wet. Faced with a day's delay DeMille charged 
up and down yelling, Til give any one a hundred dollars who 
can tell me how to get water on this beach!" From the crowd 
a voice called, "Kelp!" The cry of "kelp" filled the air and sev- 
eral hands made toward the water. The Israelites abandoned 
their animals and children, rushed into the Pacific, groping 
under the water for the tangled weed. Long skeins of kelp were 
strewn over the beach and the Israelites, bedraggled and now 
exhausted, re-formed their line in front of their camera. "A 
double triumph," beamed DeMille. "For the first time they 
look like refugees." 

Three hundred soldiers of the llth U. S. Cavalry had been 
borrowed from the camp at Monterey to man the chariots in 
the big pursuit scene, brightly garbed in short-skirted yellow 
tunics and gilded helmets. To inspire martial fervor, an orches- 
tra composed largely of women was on hand, stationed on a 
platform near the line of march and protected from the flying 
sand by a thin wall propped up by boards. Having briefed 
the soldiers on the necessity of charging "like hell after the 
Israelites," DeMille signaled for action. The column was mov- 

104 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

ing swiftly when an accident occurred among the front chari- 
oteers, telescoping the charge into a wild melee of rearing 
horses and overturned chariots. Horses tugged frantically at 
their harness, inflicting painful kicks on several drivers. Some 
of the animals, goaded by their injuries, broke for the desert, 
their ripped flanks flapping in the breeze like red bandanas. 
The pair of $5,000 black stallions were lamed. Two chariots 
locked in unexpected combat careened into the wall protecting 
the musicians, and sent the terror-stricken girls screaming from 
the platform. 

To DeMille, who might be forgiven an artist's delight in the 
occasion, it was a scene of admirable fury. He sympathized 
with, and congratulated, the injured, offering as a solatium 
the prospect that the scene would make them heroes overnight. 
The episode was used in the picture to dramatize the fate of the 
Egyptians when stopped from further advance by a pillar of 
flame. Nasty rumors were heard. One was published in a daily 
to the effect that the accident was planned, on the basis of a 
report that someone saw axles that were partly sawed, but these 
stories were blandly ignored by the producer. 

The studio fussed a good deal over an approach to publicize 
the picture. It feared the public might shy away from it under 
the impression it was deeply religious, whereas in truth under 
DeMille's hand it roared with action. DeMille had not yet 
achieved fame as a muezzin on the stucco parapets of Holly- 
wood. "Let the Old Testament speak for itself," he advised, 
and then went out and told the press, "The Ten Command- 
ments are strong meat and I am going to present them as strong 

He had hewed closely to the Bible and felt he had little to 
fear from the censors, although he was convinced no one was 
ever safe from censors. A ban on The Ten Commandments 
would amount to an attack on the Book of Exodus; however, 
he was taking no chances. In a wire-service story he made it 


plain he was ready for the opposition. "The censors may dis- 
agree with me. If they do they will have to disagree with 
Scripture I shall be curious to see which of the Ten Com- 
mandments will be tagged as unfit by them You know the 

original revel around the Golden Calf was no censorship party." 

He had filmed a robust story, perhaps even patriarchal Cer- 
tain happenings during production puzzled him. Could they 
be construed as signs of approval from on high? If this was 
true, the Divine Will could thereby be substituted for the 
censors* will, and thus place the censors in the unenviable 
position of attacking both DeMille and Divine Providence. 

After telling reporters in San Francisco he had approached 
his task "with great reverence/' he said he was hard put to 
explain some things that occurred during the making of The 
Ten Commandments; they did not seem to belong to the earthly 

"When Theodore Roberts was in the middle of the scene 
opening the Red Sea, a sudden shaft of light broke through the 
clouds and illuminated him like a halo. The multitude saw 
this. They were lifted to great heights, and gave me a perform- 
ance that no ordinary situation could have ever produced." 

Then there was the time when his cameras were focused on 
the faces of a crowd of sightseers outside a church. "We wanted 
to get an expression of reverence on their faces, but were hav- 
ing no luck. Then suddenly a bell tolled in a distance, announc- 
ing a funeral Hats came off. Silence settled on all. Many crossed 
themselves and we got an absolutely perfect scene." 

He pointed out he was not given to religious hysteria, adding 
soberly, "At Guadalupe we finished in two weeks what we 
did not think it possible to do in less than a month." 

The mystic revelations prompted scores of letters. The more 
deeply religious chided DeMille for not coming out and calling 
the unusual incidents by their right names, that is, miracles. 
The letters were placed in a special file and casually produced 
at later interviews, without comment, leaving the guests to de- 

106 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

tide to what extent, if any, he had had the benefit of divine 

His measure as a showman revealed itself; every incident 
at Guadalupe reached the desks of film editors over the country. 
He instructed his publicists to do something with the fact he 
was the first to re-enact the celebrated escape from the Egyp- 
tian hordes. Ward Marsh of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the 
elder statesman of film critics, went along with the boast, add- 
ing, "DeMille was not only the first man to divide the Red Sea 
in films, he was the first to do it singlehanded: Moses had out- 
side help." 

The Ten Commandments was a Christmas offering on Broad- 
way, opening December 21, 1923. It ran for sixty-two weeks, 
exceeding the fifty-nine weeks played there by Craze's The 
Covered Wagon and the forty-four weeks of D. W. Griffith's 
The Birth of a Nation. 

A miracle perhaps more noteworthy than any presumed at 
Guadalupe now occurred. The picture received a favorable re- 
view from Robert E. Sherwood, then film critic for the old 
humor magazine, Life (absorbed by Time in 1936). Apologeti- 
cally, Sherwood wrote he had long realized that sooner or later 
the day would come when he would have to utter praise for 
a Cecil B. DeMille picture. "Even though DeMille has muti- 
lated the works of many writers-from James Matthew Barrie 
to Alice Duer Miller," Sherwood felt that this time the producer 
displayed "commendable originality." Some of DeMille's big- 
gest money-makers were unmercifully riddled by the critics, so 
at word of this astonishing development DeMille pursed his 
lips: "This means one thing, The Ten Commandments could be 
a failurel" 

Will Rogers saw the picture with a friend, who commented 
enthusiastically on the Biblical episodes, touching off one of 
Will's better remembered ripostes: "It's easy to see where God 
left off and Cecil DeMille began." 


The final cost of the production was $1,475,836. In 1930, 
after seven years of playing, its world gross receipts totaled 
$4,154,318, That meant, spectacularly, a profit close to two 
million dollars. 


DESPITE the virtually assured success of The Ten 
Commandments, there was a severe rupture in the relationship 
between DeMille and his associates, Zukor and Lasky. Rumors 
of an impending break spread through Hollywood; the studio 
countered with statements about complete harmony, that De- 
Mille had signed "a lifelong contract" pledging the remainder 
of his professional days to Paramount. 

The flag-waving was barely over when DeMille stepped out 
of Paramount, taking his brother Bill with him. 

He had never made a picture for any other company, and 
now faced the painful task of shaking off sentimental ties that 
had formed in those ten years. Fights with executives did not 
lessen his affection for the studio, which owed to him something 
pf its start in life and much of its growth. 

On an occasion I asked DeMille about his breakup with Para- 
mount; there had been many conflicting stories. As always, 
when in deep contemplation, he fell to touching a tooth with 
the tip of each finger, in quick succession; he was silent for 
some time. "I was fired in the middle of The Ten Command- 
ments. My contract was ended right there and then. When they 
decided against selling the picture to me, I finished it without 
a contract. They saw the picture in its final form and they 
knew it was going to be a big hit. Then we got to talking about 
terms of my contract. Well, it was a little different then. I was 

108 yes, Mr. DeMilk 

in a somewhat better bargaining position. I can remember 
standing there in the front office and I had told the gentleman 
behind the desk what terms I would have to have on The Ten 
Commandments. He looked at me, his eyes were sharp as steel. 
I can still remember what he said as I left the office: 'Cecil, 
you have never been one of us. If you do this I will break 
you/ And his two fists came apart sharply like a man breaking 
a stick." 

DeMille did not budge from his demands. When he walked 
out of Paramount he held a lucrative interest in the picture, 
about the only thing he could claim as his own out of a world 
organization which he had watched grow from a barn in a 
lemon grove. 

The Ten Commandments had opened brilliantly, but it 
would be a long time before the studio would realize anything 
on its investment, DeMille's final three pictures before leaving 
Paramount, Triumph ($265,012), Feet of Clay ($315,636) and 
The Golden Bed ($437,900), returned the studio a mere pit- 
tance as major productions went. And they had featured some 
of the studio's most important stars: Vera Reynolds, Leatrice 
Joy, Rod LaRocque, Lillian Rich. 

Hie secession of DeMille caused little apparent sorrow within 
the officialdom of Famous Players-Lasky. A wicked swipe was 
made at the departed producer at a luncheon for exhibitors on 
a Monday in April 1926. An 11-reel trailer was shown the 
guests. What was contained in the trailer provoked Harrison's 
Reports, a film trade publication, into an indignant headline: 
on to say: 

At the end of the trailer there was a little playlet; it consisted 
of the showing of a dinner table, with vacant chairs arranged 
around it. On each chair appeared the name of a Paramount 


In the skit, Ford Sterling represented the Famous Players- 
Lasky Company, At each chair die actor paused and made brief 
comments to a companion, Marshall Neilan, in the role of a 
prodigal son returning to the Paramount fold. 

The last chair bore the name of Mr. Cecil B. DeMifle. In addi- 
tion, however, it had a wreath with red leaves, such as are being 
used on coffins The prodigal son asked where DeMille was. 
"Ah, he went down to the road of yesterday/' *. . . Al Harston, 
an exhibitor, could not stand it; he yelled: "That's lousy! It is 
too dirty! Take it out!" 

In the merger between the Lasky Company and Zukor's 
Famous Players, DeMille had felt insecure in his position as 
Director-General, and he had resented attempts by fellow ex- 
ecutives and money backers to restrict his choice of stories. 
As early as 1918 he was talking with various persons about 
forming his own organization to produce pictures independ- 
ently, and reap the profits undivided. 

Adoph Zukor was busy too. He widened the power of Famous 
Players-Lasky, soon would change its name to Paramount. He 
had set the partnership on an equal-division-of-profit basis, 
among himself as president, Goldwyn as chairman of the board, 
DeMille as director-general, and Lasky as vice-president. 

Zukor, a very short, spare man, kept the closest kind of watch 
on company affairs. His size was not a measure of his power, 
nor of die deference accorded that power. He was at his huge 
desk in his plush Paramount Building offices in New York one 
afternoon when an irate woman confronted him. "Mr, Zukor, 
when I enter an office I am accustomed to having the gentle- 
man stand up." Whereupon the diminutive prexy replied, "But, 
madam, I am standing." 

Zukor was not happy with Goldwyn's methods from the start. 

* DeMifle's first picture following his departure from Paramount was The 
Road to Yesterday. 

110 Ye*, Mr. DeMille 

He couldn't understand why Sam refused to behave as he 
felt a team man should. "Every hour on the hour, and some- 
times the half-hour, Sam Goldwyn sent a shock through the 
organization/' Zukor relates, "and kept things whirling in what 
amounted to a frenzy/' 

Goldwyn's forceful approach continued to grate on Zukor, 
convinced that Sam disagreed with him many times "only for 
the sake of argument/' 

Zukor made up his mind that if Goldwyn did not go, he 
would. "One of us was out of water in Famous Players-Lasky," 
he put it recently. 

It was not easy to broach the matter to Lasky, who was 
Sam's brother-in-law. Zukor called DeMille to New York, told 
both Lasky and DeMille they would have to choose between 
himself and Sam, one or the other. They chose Zukor. Goldwyn 
left with a substantial settlement for his quarter interest in the 
company a little under a million dollars, according to Zukor 
after four years in the business. Even with DeMille and Lasky 
still in th@ picture, little remained of Lasky company policies. 

The feeling between Zukor and DeMille was considerably 
more mutual neither could understand the other s thinking. 
Soon DeMille would leave, and eventually Lasky. 

Zukor, little Napoleon of the conference table, was gobbling 
up some titans. 

DeMille took an initial step in August 1920. He formed, at 
first as a partnership, Cecil B. DeMille Productions, Inc., with 
himself, Mrs. DeMille, his attorney Neil McCarthy, and a rela- 
tive of Mrs. DeMille as partners. The corporation agreed to 
pay Cecil $1,500 a week to retain his services as a director. 
Then, it would "sell" Cecil as a director to producing companies 
under agreements which entitled it to guarantees, plus a per- 
centage of profits from pictures directed by DeMille. 

It was, roughly, the kind of contract favored by the DeMille 
company for many years. 


The aim of the four partners was to accumulate a fund of 
$4 million with which some day to finance their own pictures. 

The break with Zukor was bitter, and surprising to Holly- 
wood, long accustomed to rumors of feuding between the old 

DeMille knew it might be costly; Paramount controlled a 
lot of theaters around the country and consequences would be 
disastrous should Zukor decide to bar the theaters to future 
DeMille pictures. 

In the spring of 1925, DeMille went into business for him- 
self. He contracted an alliance with powerful New York inter- 
ests and set up production facilities at the old Thomas H. Ince 
lot in Culver City, an aggressive little community between 
Los Angeles and the ocean. The town greeted him with a band 
and dancing in the streets. A holiday was declared on the day 
of the studio's formal opening. Under the banner Producers 
Distributing Corporation, DeMille was both artist and execu- 
tive, a new role for him. He hired directors and doled out stories 
for them to film, and gathered a stable of important stars. 

Part III 




IN the move to his own studio, fate assigned DeMille 
a unique mission. He came under tlie influence of Jeremiah 

Milbank's distaste for publicity went as deep as DeMille's re- 
liance upon it. The New York financier was extremely spiritual, 
a curiosity in a land of revelry. 

From this association came the shining jewel of DeMille's 
career, The King of Kings. 

Though universally acclaimed as Cecil B. DeMille's King of 
Kings, a proper enough designation, the picture owed an enor- 
mous debt to the quiet fervor of Milbank. Because Milbank 
somehow managed to keep out of the Hollywood columns, it 
was known by few that his money was behind the venture. 
Today the narrative of the Christ life is still his property, 
handled by the Milbank-owned Cinema Corporation of Pater- 
son, New Jersey, a firm whose chief function is to guide this 
remarkable film in its admission-free odyssey over the world. 

The stage was set. DeMille had displayed marvelous .pre- 
science. The Ten Commandments, he had been told, would 
probably destroy the studio. It did not; on the contrary it made 
an outstanding profit. Having quelled the suicidal cries of his 
associates, his judgment in matters Biblical now took the shape 
of something to be revered and sought after. He had made 
costume drama pay off at a time when few producers would 
risk their money even on "safer" pictures of later vintage. He 


116 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

had injected into a Biblical picture a very elusive quality called 
"popular appeal" an evanescent term used on every Holly- 
wood level. Many a producer has said to the front office, and 
many a front office has said to a producer, "This is a great 
picture. This the people will love/' and often the people have 
not loved it. It therefore became a mysterious casualty, a great 
picture that somehow was rejected by the public. 

Popular response to The Ten Commandments established 
DeMille's reputation as a combination soothsayer and miracle 
man. He had played equal amounts of sex, religion and spec- 
tacle against a Biblical background, a "western" set to Old 
Testament. The formula was to be with him always the fate 
of a nation or a way of life hanging on the outcome of a con- 
flict between powerful individuals, one good, the other bad. 

The story of the Christ would not fit into DeMille's plot 
formula of sexual sound and historical fury. That was pretty 
plain to all hands from the very start and it was only a matter 
of time until one would surrender, the New Testament or 
DeMille. He told his scenarist, the late Jeanie Macpherson, 
that he wanted "a story of Christ with popular appeal," indi- 
cating the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John lacked 
"boxoffice." This deficiency could not be charged against the 
authors, it must be charitably acknowledged, inasmuch as they 
were not writing with Hollywood in mind. 

It was shaping up as quite a battle, DeMille vs. the Inspired 
Word. Maybe there could be a compromise, namely, retain the 
original and at the same time weave in Hollywood's concept 
of popular appeal, which it was now decided the Gospels 
lacked. At first DeMille thought of dividing The King of Kings 
into two parts (as in The Ten Commandments) : the first part 
would be the Christ story, the second would be strictly mod- 
ern, thus permitting a byplay of sin and razzmatazz. The sin 
and razzmatazz would deliver a shattering sermon to those 
who ignored the Savior's admonitions, as set forth in the first 
part of the story. 


On this basis, then, the story conferences went forward. As 
they talked, wrote, and talked some more, the Savior half of 
the story got stronger, the modern part weaker. Finally, as if 
the Christ had broken from their grasp, the decision was made 
to devote the entire screenplay to the Gospels. The modern 
epilogue was abandoned. 

This decision was received jubilantly by the St. Louis Jesuit, 
Dan Lord, who had been consulting with the producer from 
the start. Still, the battle was not yet entirely won. While the 
Scripture had a strong hold on DeMille, it had not yet pinned 
him down. 

Something quite fascinating occurred to DeMille. The char- 
acter of Mary Magdalene! She had the same old weakness, part 
and parcel of the DeMille formula, and here it was right in 
the Scriptures waiting for him to utilize it in the most effective 
way possible. Yes, the sinner of Magdala should be made use 
of before her repentance set in. 

Here, DeMille turned his attention to Judas, the Christ be- 
trayer. Wait! Is it not true the Bible is silent on Judas* love 
life? He must have had one; a chap who would betray the 
Savior of Mankind for thirty pieces of silver no doubt had other 
interesting vices. 

DeMille eagerly supplied a few details. 

First, why did Judas betray Christ? For money! Well, per- 
haps, but it was a trifling amount for so heinous a deed! No, 
there had to be something else-a woman's lovef Unquestion- 
ably, a woman's love. 

The woman? None other than Mary Magdalene, of virtue 
both easy and ruthless! The she-devil who lured men to her 
palace in Magdala, city of pleasure, where, no doubt, she played 
sweet music and anesthetized her clients with the wines of 
Chios and Lesbos. 

The rest of this part of the story was easy. One day Mary 
Magdalene meets Judas, and he has nothing but eyes for this 
luscious dame. He wants her but she's an expensive item, and 

118 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

he must have money. He sees in Christ a chance to improve 
upon his personal fortunes. But before he realizes it, Magdalene 
accepts Christ, and her character begins to change as she turns 
away from Judas. 

Judas resents this. He grows to hate "the simple carpenter" 
and one day soon he would play his trump card betray Christ 
for a fee. 

"My heart sank at the possibilities of this plot/' Dan Lord 
recalled in his memoirs years later. 

DeMille had turned to Mary Magdalene with joyful fury. He 
converted her into a perfumed and silken seductress, "gor- 
geously dressed by four slave girls/' A velvet cape swirled 
piquantly over her bare white shoulders, hiding none too suc- 
cessfully a jewel-studded bra, as she rides off in a chariot drawn 
by six zebras to follow the lowly carpenter of Nazareth, 

Hollywood watched the struggle between DeMille and the 
Evangelists with lively interest. He had no intention of getting 
in hot water over a matter as delicate as this; if Magdalene 
was evil it was because the Bible made her so. He was simply 
adding a few trimmings, a little zip, as he did for Poppaea, 
the first classical graduate of his school of glamour. 

At the first rumblings from a religious group, he let it be 
known he was approaching his subject with "reverence marked 
by a deep sense of responsibility " He said The King of Kings 
would not be filmed without the guidance of the clergy, and 
asked churches to pick their representatives. 

The Federated Churches of America sent Dr. George Reid 
Andrews, and the National Catholic Welfare Council selected 
Father Lord. 

Dr. Alkow, a rabbi, took up residence at the studio as an 
expert on Jewish customs, along with Bruce Barton, son of a 
prominent minister. 

DeMille did not confer with them as a group but worked 
out objections with each separately, preferring not to let the 


Protestants know what was disturbing the Catholics, and vice 

DeMille liked Father Lord immensely, found him understand- 
ing, patient, receptive to ideas that would send hard-shelled 
clergymen screaming into the Biblical underbrush. The priest 
was comparatively young then; he confessed to the producer 
he had had for years an intense interest in the film medium, 
DeMille, pondering this, may have concluded the youthful 
priest wanted to make a change, for he asked him one day, 
"Do you like your life and work?" 


"You seem interested in Hollywood, and I believe you are 
alert to the possibilities of motion pictures/' 

"Yes, very much so/* 

"Would you consider coming out here, learning pictures from 
the ground up, working with me on production, and becoming 
a director and producer?" 

It was apparent Lord would never qualify as a DeMille yes 
man. "Not for anything in the world," the young priest replied. 
"I love my life. I am completely content with it* 

DeMille, complete stranger to contentment, smiled. "You are 
a lucky man." 

About twenty years later a priest did join the DeMille staff, 
during a sabbatical of several years, and when his official leave 
was over he advised the producer he was returning to his 
sacerdotal duties. DeMille did not take kindly to the coming 
separation, but did manage to maintain a rigid silence. There 
were dekys in his leaving. DeMille told us he believed the 
clergyman, a man of intellect, had changed his mind. He felt 
the priest could do greater good through the far-reaching 
cinema medium than from the pulpit echoing once more his 
mothers logic of a half-century ago. 

The priest eventually left, and when he had reached his 
destination DeMille, without our customary aid in letter writ- 

120 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

ing, penned him a long note which left little doubt that his 
return to the priesthood was a shortsighted act, of much lesser 
benefit to mankind. At luncheon that day DeMille reviewed 
the matter, concluding, "He has gone to serve a greater master." 

DEMILLE took Father Lord aboard his yacht, 
sketched out the plan of the story and the motives behind it. 
Lord had agreed with Will Hays, the code chief, that Holly- 
wood was entering upon the most important religious work of 
a generation. At that time eighteen million persons attended 
movies every day; in a week the number equaled the country's 
population. To millions of these, Christ was less real than 
Napoleon or Babe Ruth. Hopefully all this would soon change. 

Filming started August 24, 1926. The clergy prayed for bless- 
inga Protestant bishop, a rabbi, a Catholic priest, a Salvation 
Army commanding officer, a Mohammedan teacher and a Bud- 
dhist swami. 

A ten-stop organ pkyed "Onward, Christian Soldiers 1" each 
morning as DeMille entered the sound stage and all stood by 
solemnly. Spiritual mood music was piped in, strains from 
Handel's "Largo," Dykes' "Holy, Holy, Holy" and Strainer's 
"The Crucifixion" 

Bibles were distributed to the principal players, who were 
asked to acquaint themselves with the four Gospels, and answer 
to their Biblical names "Tell Caiaphas to get his make-up on," 
"We're ready for Jesus," "Peter's wig is slipping, someone fix 
it." Once an impatient director, demanding to know "where 
in the hell is Judas?" drew a stinging rebuke from the producer. 

Players in robes and sandals moved about quietly, talking 


in hushed tones, in odd contrast to the usual on-the-set banter. 
One day a newspaper photographer snapped a shot of EL B. 
Warner as Christ, in full Biblical robes, lounging in a chair and 
the old specter! smoking a cigarette and scanning the sports 
pages. It alerted DeMille to the dangerous possibilities of the 
wrong kind of publicity. 

Not long after, DeMille realized how right he was. He got 
word that a certain woman would soon become a mother, that 
she was unwed and that, moreover, the father of the unborn 
infant was H. B. Warner! The paternity suit threatened to 
wreck the most careful shepherding on DeMille's part. He had 
got Warner through most of the picture in impeccable taste, 
temporal and ecclesiastical. Investigators were sent off in sev- 
eral directions. They learned the woman had spent time at 
Tehachapi, that she was not pregnant, that she had never met 
Warner, much less had the pleasure of his company. The whole 
incident was cloaked in the utmost secrecy, to the point that 
Warner himself never learned of it until years later. 

There was talk that DeMille had paid the woman $10,000 
for her silence but such was not the case. She was cowed by 
a threat of prosecution for attempted fraud, though even that 
action would have done the picture considerable harm. 

In clear, strong language DeMille told his press agents that 
the fate of the picture rested on how well they were able to 
keep frivolous remarks out of the papers. "TheyTl print any- 
thing to get a laugh. I want to get through this picture without 
someone writing that she saw Caiaphas drunk at Giro's last 
night, or Mary Magdalene sparking in a rumble seat on Mul- 
holland Drive." 

At DeMille's request, Warner confined all his secular ac- 
tivities to the privacy of his dressing room. There he ate his 
meals alone and spent his time when not before the camera. 
When he left his dressing room to go outdoors he put on a 
hood concealing his face. 

DeMille himself found it difficult to observe these stringent 

122 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

rules in the heat of directing a large picture. Once, displeased 
with a scene, he subjected Warner to a flow of sarcasm, where- 
upon the actor startled DeMille and the company with the 
indignant retort: "Mr. DeMille, do you realize to whom you 
are speaking?'* 

An order banned wisecracks under the penalty of immediate 
dismissal. The studio announced that both Warner and Dorothy 
Gumming, playing the Virgin Mary, had signed a 5-year con- 
tract stipulating they would not accept any film role which 
might lessen the dignity of their parts in The King of Kings. 
DeMille urged Warner and Miss Gumming to remain away from 
night clubs, and at least until the production was finished to 
avoid riding in convertibles, swimming, card playing, attending 
ball games. 

Other featured players signed a special agreement by which 
they promised to behave "in a chaste and becoming manner" 
during the period of the filming. It caused a lot of waggish 
comment. A person favorably disposed toward improper venery 
now might hesitate breaking the moral code was one thing, 
but violating a DeMille contract was quite another. 

In the circumstances, one might guess that Warner's mag- 
nificent portrayal of the Christ would have made his career 
secure. Hollywood condemned players to types. Once having 
appeared in the role of the Savior of Mankind, Warner found 
there was little else available. He played the Head Lama in 
Lost Horizon, but other than that, Warner told friends, his 
film career ended with The King of Kings. Ironically, he died 
a few days before Christmas, 1958; the services in a Hollywood 
chapel were attended by fourteen persons. 

DeMille spent a good deal of time with Jacqueline Logan, 
a bubbly, vivacious redhead, going over the part of Mary 
Magdalene. He sought to impress upon her that it was a tre- 
mendous role. He said she would be called upon to give two 
performances a beautiful and voluptuous creature in the early 


sequences, then changing to a saddened woman whose beauty 
had become spiritual. She was urged to "act all the deadly sins 
as they leave your body-lust, greed, pride, envy, gluttony, 
anger, sloth/' Two days later Miss Logan finished the scenes 
in which she cast out the seven deadly sins. The next day she 
was guilty of sloth. She overslept, appearing on the set an hour 
late, one of the more deadly sins on a DeMille set. The cast 
and crew, tense at the expectance of a DeMille explosion, saw 
him greet the contrite actress with a fatherly smile. This rare 
behavior left no explanation except to conclude the showman 
was affected by the pious atmosphere. 

When Father Dan Lord arrived at the filming, the story, of 
Mary and Judas was possibly one-third of the whole plot. But, 
little by little, an astonishing thing was happening. The priest 
recalled, "Whenever Christ appeared on the screen, all the 
other characters simply became background. If Jesus walked 
into the scene, Magdalene or Judas or both at once became 
absolutely subordinate characters. His story became so absorb- 
ing that the fictionary story which had been built up to satisfy 
modern audiences seemed cheap, unimportant and trivial in 
comparison. It was becoming the story of Christ alone, and 
any other story treated as equally important seemed an im- 
pertinence. By the time I left I had seen the story of Judas and 
Magdalene cease to be the main or even the secondary story 
and become a trifling incident, left as a sop to the groundlings/' 

Father Lord related that they were watching rushes one eve- 
ning when Mr. DeMille leaned over and touched his hand. 

"He is great, isn't he?" he said. 

The priest pretended not to understand. "Warner?" 

"Jesus," DeMille replied. "He's great." Then after a long 
pause, "I doubt that we shall need the story of Mary Magdalene 
and Judas." 

The clergy were busy with questions that would have strained 
a scholar's Scriptural knowledge. "Why do not Catholics say, 

124 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

Tor thine is the power and the glory at the end of the Lord's 
Prayer?" "How was St. Peter likely to have held the portion 
of the bread at the Last Supper?" "Is there any ancient au- 
thority who maintains that Judas was moved by thwarted am- 
bition rather than by greed to betray Christ?" "If Peter were 
fishing for a single fish, would he be likely to use a pole, reel 
or net?" 

The board of editors consisted of Father Lord, Dr. An- 
drews, Clifford Howard, DeMille and Miss Macpherson. They 
gathered in DeMille's private office in the morning and con- 
tinued until 7 P.M., returning after dinner. They wrote and 
rewrote titles, cut and recut, thumbed their Bibles to put events 
and reasons into subtitles of 25 words or less. They realized 
how perfectly the Evangelists had written the Christ story 
when they tried to match wording against theirs. 

Meanwhile DeMille publicized a questionnaire to find out 
what people knew about the Scriptures. Thousands of persons 
replied. Among the answers was this gem: The elders are a 
sort of bush from which you get berries to make wine. 


DEMILLE and Sid Grauman, another showman of 
local repute, joined hands in unveiling The King of Kings. 
Grauman's new theater on Hollywood Boulevard, dubbed by 
the late showman "Sid Grauman's Chinese Cinema Temple," 
had just been completed. It was equal to the title. Its rococo 
towers, rising like battlements of some ancient oriental fortress, 
were visible for miles in any direction in that smog-free period. 
On the evening of the premiere of the film story of the simple 
Nazarene, a gigantic fountain in the forecourt shot tongues 
of water some 100 feet into the air. The effect was further en- 


hanced by orchestra music which, it was explained, blended 
with "the moods of the water/' Instead of the usual drop- 
curtain, Grauman planned a junior-miss size Niagara Falls illu- 
minated by colored lights. He wrote a personal note to Calvin 
Coolidge asking the President to push a button in Washington 
to signal the start of the waterfall curtain. An aide regretfully 
declined. A corps of damsels was imported from San Francisco's 
Chinatown to act as usherettes, lending an attractive, though 
sharply un-Biblical, flavor to the proceedings. 

One of DeMille's cardinal rules was an early start at a 
premiere to insure a fresh, bright-eyed audience. As a showman 
he considered it a basic precept no picture should be called 
upon to fight off the blight of boredom brought on by lengthy 

As it developed, he spent one of the unhappiest nights of his 
life at Grauman's premiere of The King of Kings. Speaker after 
speaker felt it proper to shower much rosy prose on DeMille's 
dauntless spirit, to a point where DeMille was sure he was 
going to be stoned out of the theater. He sensed that the 
patience of the elite $ll-a-seat assemblage was growing thinner 
by the moment. With each pleonasm of praise for DeMille's 
rare fortitude in undertaking such a speculative venture, the 
perspiring object of this mass affection became more desperate. 

It was near 11 P.M. when The King of Kings main title flashed 
on the screen. That DeMille's feelings were justified was indi- 
cated by comments in the New York Mirror review: 

Their faces looked muscle-slacked. Many eyes were sleep- 
laden, as though rudely aroused from slumber. No enthusiasm. 
Loquacious disappointment, spiced with such startling comments 
as "H. B. Warner s beard seemed moth-eaten.". . . and from one 
facetious soul: "No love interest" 

At a later opening in another town, there was one speaker, 
DeMille himself. He said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, if you will 
look at this picture and see with eyes that see and understand- 

126 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

ing that understands, my life's work will be complete/' and 
sat down. 

Hollywood as a place for DeMille's premieres was done for. 
Neither hell nor high water and no power, Biblical or lay, 
could persuade him to stage another opening in the film capi- 
tal. His resentment grew geographically, spreading from Holly- 
wood to the entire coastal region, where, he raged, "not people 
live, only smart alecks." He was especially chary of Pasadena, 
which in grandiose moments he tagged as a community of 
"tired rich who turned up their noses at simple human drama," 
adding, "The only thing that will go in Pasadena is a psycho- 
logical plot by two youths trying to decide whether they should 
poison their rich aunt or hang her by her toes from the rafters." 
He felt kindly toward inland cities, in time developing a fiery 
affection for the Middle West: "The heart of the nation pump- 
ing blood to both coasts." He staged his "sneak previews" in 
Denver, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Omaha. In Kansas City he 
lashed out against unseen critics who condemn the Middle 
West as "corny." "Be proud of corn," he told citizens and re- 
porters. "Corn is soul, corn is that which makes you cry and 
laugh. Corn is all humanity. Yes, my pictures have corn and 
I am proud of it." 

The King of Kings cost $2,265,283. Its profit record was poor, 
but this was by design. The Cinema Corporation for many years 
has loaned it to civic, religious and charitable groups, asking 
only a nominal fee to help replace worn prints. Apart from 
an occasional percentage check to the DeMille organization, 
no profit of any size has been made on the 32-year-old silent 


movie. Distribution has been extraordinary it is said no week 
passes without The King of Kings playing in some corner of 
the world. 

When it opened in New York City in 1927, the late Alexander 
Woollcott wrote: "It is my guess The King of Kings will girdle 
the globe, and the multitude will still be flocking to see it in 
1947." WooUcott was right. It is estimated 800,000,000 persons 
have seen the film, at one period shown some 1,500 times yearly 
in the United States alone. Scores of 16 mm. prints were sent 
to missionaries throughout the world. 

In remote regions Paulist Fathers have shown the movie to 
audiences who have seen no other pictures. Missionaries in 
India replace their old prints every three years; others have 
taken it in canoes up the Ganges and Congo. It was the first 
film ever seen by Eskimos at Point Barrow, Alaska. One mis- 
sionary reports having shown the film to 125,000 persons. The 
picture's titles have been translated into twenty-three lan- 
guages, including Chinese, Turkish, Arabic and Hindustani. 

The King of Kings was shortened to fit a new policy after 
general release. Most of Ernest Torrance's portrayal of Peter 
was cut out. This grieved DeMille, as he considered it almost 
superior to Warner's handling of the Christ role. His feelings 
were close to shock when the Cinema people lopped off vir- 
tually all of the opening episode containing the affair between 
Mary Magdalene and Judas. After this, neither Magdalene nor 
Judas made much sense to him as characters. He viewed it as 
unlikely that a man would betray a King for "a lousy thirty 
pieces of silver." "There must have been a dame in the back- 
ground/* he told us in a tone of finality. 

Letters poured into the DeMille office from many lands, 
urging the producer to "carry on your new ministry" and hail- 
ing the rise of a "power for good in sin-laden Hollywood." A 
number were critical, indignant or outraged, and were pkced 
in a file in a secret vault. The others were bound into three thick 
volumes. For years they remained within easy reach in De- 

128 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

Mille's office, to the considerable discomfiture of correspondents 
and others who had taken a cynical view of the entire project. 
(John Steinbeck's comment: "Saw the picture, loved the 

A woman wrote she was renouncing "a life of sin for the 
way of Christ/' A burglar, self-styled, vowed a return to the 
path of goodness after seeing the picture. A boy in the Bronx, 
New York, wrote: Gee, I am going to give back that nickel's 
worth of candy I swiped from Nick last night. A Los Angeles 
Superior Court judge felt "it is worth a thousand sermons." A 
woman in Yankton, S. D., stated she had been cynical about 
religion, "but you answered the question for me in such a 
manner that a great light came into my soul." The late George 


There arrived one singularly moving letter which DeMille 
rarely failed to mention in any serious discussion of the pic- 
ture. The writer, a woman, said she was suffering from an in- 
curable disease and did not have long to live. Seeing your 
picture has changed what must happen in a short time from a 
terror to a glorious anticipation. 

DeMille remembered fondly Will Rogers' summary: There 
will never be a greater picture because there is no greater 
subject. DeMille felt it was a supreme tribute, although he 
pondered its nuances, once suggesting to a staff member, "There 
is no greater subject, true, but it could suffer from poor treat- 

DeMifle's own attitude toward his stature as a film maker 
changed drastically. He was emerging as a Biblical chanticleer 
of no mean proportions. His voice was reaching far and wide, 
accomplishing in a single stroke what might conceivably re- 
quire the efforts of a thousand missionaries. Even the usual 
adverse criticism of the DeMille technique collapsed when it 
came to The King of Kings. He developed, as time went on, 


a repertoire of phrases to dramatize the film's influence. "Thou- 
sands of half-clad savages sitting on the banks of the Congo 
watching this story of Jesus of Nazareth," he declaimed to 
visitors. "No one can imagine what this picture has done in 
the recent strife in the Holy Land. They asked for prints be- 
cause this is the sort of thing they need to quell riot, bloodshed 
and larceny." 


WITH the establishment of his own production setup, 
DeMille had warned that he would fight Paramount with the 
same weapons which that studio had employed so successfully. 
He would build theaters in every key city if Paramount made an 
attempt to freeze him out by not playing his pictures in Para- 
mount's theaters around the country. 

He had entered into a complex financial alignment with New 
York capital. It provided ready money and lessened the possi- 
bility of a "freeze-out" by Paramount. Then came his next major 
move-an arrangement with the Keith-Albee and Orpheum cir- 
cuits, putting at his disposal a coast-to-coast network of 1,400 

Even with four corporations involved in the elaborate studio- 
theater structure, DeMille controlled all matters pertaining to 
stories, scenarios and artists. 

Trouble began almost immediately. Initial funds from the 
New York concerns were not promptly advanced, another failed 
to pay picture expenses, and on several occasions DeMifle's 
own company had to guarantee the weekly studio payroll. Fric- 
tion was almost continuous. 

On the other hand, the backers were not encouraged by the 
returns from the first picture under the new setup, The Road 

130 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

to Yesterday, released in August 1925. Beulah Marie Dix and 
Jeanie Macpherson had collaborated on the scenario, with 
Joseph Schttdkraut, Jetta Goudal, William Boyd and Vera 
Reynolds as the stars. It had cost $447,479 and was to gross 
a meager $552,663. The next film, The Volga Boatman, released 
the same year, performed somewhat better, returning a million 
and a quarter on a half -million-dollar budget a fair profit. 

The King of Kings cost well over two million dollars and 
would one day return that much, but it was The Godless Girl 
the fourth and last picture under DeMille's personal banner- 
that destroyed the remnants of confidence in the new venture. 
Made in 1928 at a cost of $722,000, the film grossed $486,000- 
failing to pay much of its basic expenses. 

In 1929, DeMille moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 
studio. Under a contract entered into by his own firm, DeMille 
Productions, Inc., he was given complete authority as to pic- 
tures, stories and cast. The DeMille company was to receive 
a guarantee of from $150,000 to $175,000 per picture in addi- 
tion to a percentage of the income from each. 

Disputes arose with the very first picture. In April 1931, the 
parties agreed to terminate the contract, 

Once again the arguments were over DeMille's choice of 
stories and types of production. He made three pictures at 

Dynamite cost about $700,000 and yielded a million and a 

Madam Satan cost $980,000 and brought in only $742,000. 

A remake of The Squaw Man cost $742,000, yielding only 

Both for Metro-and DeMille at this stage of his career 
the showing was disastrous. 

Financially, however, he had not fared badly. Nor had 
DeMille Productions, thanks to the guarantees in the contract 


with Metro. In the prior seven years the company had been 
active in real estate and securities. It acquired a number of 
business properties, which it let. It bought a theater or two, 
purchased several ranch properties, and took interests in varied 
enterprises Arizona cotton lands, oil development, a construc- 
tion company, and others some successful, some not. 

It had made no pictures except under contract, and into the 
production of such pictures it put no money of its own, the 
funds being supplied by other parties to the contracts. Most of 
the picture profits were from productions personally directed 
by DeMille. 

From 1924 to 1929 the company had built up a surplus of 
well over a million and a half dollars, and in that time DeMille 
had received in salary a total of $366,000; Mrs. DeMille, 

Now the world seemed to close in on him. He had been 
stifled in efforts to produce his own pictures, and the specter 
of executive interference in creative matters continued to be- 
devil him. 

"If Edison had a supervisor we would not have electric 
lamps, and nothing of any real worth in a creative way has 
ever been done if the creator has been hampered and utterly 
restricted,'* he fumed at the industry in a statement to Variety. 
"Raphael would never have painted the Sistine Chapel if his 
patrons had told him just what and how many cherubs he 

could paint in And individual contribution is just what the 

present picture system hampers and almost totally destroys.'* 

Then he announced he was going to Russia and could not 
think of any place offering more drama at the moment. He 
described it as a great prehistoric beast shaking off its shackles 
and stepping into civilization. He saw the capitalistic system 
as a failure. There was no integrity in it, and he believed that 
the fundamental integrity of the American people would revolt 
against it. 

132 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 
He was quoted in Variety on June 23, 1931: 

I am not a radical, but now things are a question of right and 
wrong. The public has been milked and are growing tired of it. 
It is not speculation alone. There is something rotten at the core 
of our system. We have to get back to the simple, true principles 
that our government was founded on. Even legitimate stock- 
holders now have been turned from partners in a business into 
goats and they will get sick of it. 

There is something all wrong somewhere when a man can't 
invest his carefully accumulated money in the big industries of 
a country without having them manipulated by those at the top, 
with the result that his life savings and the protection for his 
family are wiped out. 

DeMille spent a month in Russia with special permission 
from the Government to move about almost at will. The con- 
trasts of Soviet life in the year 1931 sat gently, and comfortably, 
upon his conscience. His notes of the trip indicate that perhaps 
there was not so much awry with capitalistic America: 

In Moscow * . . five divorces and three manages in the half -hour 
we watched. About 55 per cent of divorces to marriages 

At the prison . . . 600 convicts ... all cheerful. Receive thirty- 
five rubles a month for their work Young man who lolled a 
friend got two years. Greek priest for counterrevolution, ten 

Little boys gathering about us Wanted to see gold. When 
shown a $20-gold piece one boy said he hoped I didn't intend to 
use it to make money 

Old man said he couldn't understand why America didn't 
recognize Russia, that we had loaned money to every nation in 
Europe who had gone bankrupt except the USSR, which was 
a success. 

Story of the engineer and Bolshevist as to who is greater. 
Engineer said he brings order out of chaos and Bolshevist said, 
"Well, who made the chaosF 

Professor has no concept of American government. Believes 
lynching of Negroes is government inspired or at least condoned. 
Believes shooting of political prisoners is okay but is shocked at 


America having capital punishment for murder, calls it revenge. 
Believes Lincoln was a capitalist President and freed the slaves 
to help capital 

Gravest danger between the two countries is lack of under- 
standing of each other's true condition and purpose . . . children 
begging . . . gangs of women laborers working beside railroad 

tracks Everywhere the feeling prevails, "Why does America 

hate Russia?" 

Passed through a town that has had no new building in 200 

years Film stars unknown Asked a man whether he liked 

Greta Garbo and he said he had never tasted it 

Russia is a land of no liberty, much paper money, vast slum 

areas, some ideals and much determination It is a land of 

two million bureaucrats regimenting 150 million slaves living in 
hopeless poverty 

DeMille had made The Godless Girl in 1928, labeling it 
"a triumph of Christianity over atheism." While touring Russia 
DeMille was warmly complimented by Soviet officials on one 
of his early pictures. The film's title had been changed by the 
Russians; there was no clue as to which one had so engaged the 
Marxist mind. In Tiflis, a Russian of previous acquaintance gave 
the answer. It was Godless Girl In the story Christianity does 
not triumph over atheism until the last reel. The Russians had 
eliminated that reel. Now it appeared atheism was approved 
in American schools. 

Part IV 



TWO framed cartoons hung for a time in the office 
of a staff assistant in the DeMille bungalow, one showing the 
crisis that occurred when, according to the caption, An assistant 
says NO to Cecil DeMille. Actors appear to tremble like aspen 
leaves, secretaries are fainting and crewmen leap from high 
towers as if preferring suicide to the director's wrath. The 
other cartoon depicts a fleecy scene in heaven, with the cele- 
brated showman wearing an outsize pair of wings, of the sort 
properly reserved for epic-makers. He is chestily facing up to 
a shaft of light, presumably emanating from the Creator, and 
delivering an edict promptly upon arrival: "One of us has got 
to gor Rival producers would not be apt to regard the sym- 
bolism as even a trifle overdrawn. Having observed what 
DeMille had accomplished on earth almost singlehandedly, 
they would be willing, however irreverently, to classify this 
exasperating man as a potential dark horse on the celestial 
scene; at least they would expect him to give the Incumbent a 
good stiff battle. 

As might be expected, DeMille often found himself in fetters 
to the tight little world within the bungalow, which frequently 
trembled under his mastery. He considered himself hobbled by 
mediocre minds incapable of rising to heights reached by his 
own imagination. He felt his trouble was with people who kept 

him from moving steadily toward his objectives. 


138 Jes y Mr. DeMilk 

He appeared clad for battle, first with field boots and 
breeches, then adding whatever equipment or people he deemed 
necessary as the years went on. The microphone, which came 
into wide use in the 20's, DeMille found a real boon; now he 
could be heard above Acre, Fort Pitt, the Crusades, and other 
campaigns of similar scope that roared from the DeMille 

In time, he hired a chair boy, microphone boy, small-equip- 
ment boy (ready with pencil, pad and such), yielding a sort 
of key to his stage character. The corps of specialists soon 
became a favorite target of the press. Their humorous jibes left 
little impression on the epic-maker. His stature considered, the 
chair and microphone boys made sense to him, though for 
public consumption he was careful to justify the contributions 
of these minor functionaries. 

"What the gentlemen of the press don't understand," DeMille 
would grieve, "is that my sets cost me anywhere from fifty to 
a hundred thousand dollars a day. I move around pretty fast 
and even a minute's delay waiting for a microphone can be 
pretty expensive." 

During production he was as busy as a general launching a 
major offensive. Appointments were next to impossible. On 
one occasion a critic from an important paper asked for "only 
twenty minutes of Mr. DeMille's time." "Twenty minutes," the 
boss ejaculated. "I haven't given Mrs. DeMille that much time 
in ten years." He was irritated when the staff felt compelled 
to take time off during filming of a picture; news of the illness 
of this or that member left the boss cold as basalt. In pro- 
duction, he was interested only in maximum effort. Anything 
less than that was traitorous, or at least an unspeakable defec- 
tion. One aide's father died while the DeMille party was 
en route by train to Philadelphia to join the Ringling circus. 
Word of the death was communicated to the man en route, 
,and he left the train at that point to return home. 


He had been away from the DeMille party two days when 
DeMille inquired as to his whereabouts. 

"You remember, Mr. DeMille, his father just died/' 

The boss glared at his informant, "His is not the only father 
who ever died. We'll all pray for the good man but there's 
nothing he can do for him now, and there is something he can 
do for ten million dollars' worth of motion picture. Please con- 
vey that message to him." 

The message was so conveyed, and the assistant caught the 
next train for Philadelphia, with the dedication of a martyr serv- 
ing a secular cause. 

The cluster of DeMille aides widened a field secretary, a 
script girl and one or two first-assistant directors who shuttled 
between him and numerous "field" assistants. They added to 
the difficulty of reaching the ear of the producer at a critical 
moment. The microphone boy probably suffered most from 
this press. No signals were given; he had to be not only alert 
but intuitive, poising the microphone in front of the producer s 
face at just the precise moment of utterance. A long microphone 
cord trailed this harassed functionary. At times it tangled with 
chairs or stools, often when the producer was bellowing like a 
wounded lion for the mike. 

But it was the chair boy who caught the popular eye. Some 
wagers were made on the expectancy of his failure to place the 
chair under DeMille when the latter took an unannounced 
notion to sit down. It was the late DeWolf Hopper who ex- 
pressed a longing in the breasts of many a friend and adversary: 

In five years this gentleman has sat whenever the spirit 
moved him and never looked behind nor hesitated, secure 
in the knowledge that the menial was there with a chair in 
position. I have lived these five years in the impious hope 
that this shadow might some day be visited with a momen- 
tary lapse and the famous director sit unexpectedly and 
violently upon the floor. 

140 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

Hopper's unmanly wish never came to pass. Whatever it was, 
fear or divine guidance, DeMille's chair boys never once were 
remiss in their duty. 

DeMille's dual personality the gracious, well-turned-out, 
soft-spoken gentleman vs. the ferocious director was often con- 
fusing to observers. There were instances when Citizen De- 
Mille denied the existence of Director DeMille. A number of 
years ago he had undertaken a violent scene in which an actor- 
cowboy was to be tumbled from his horse by a rifle shot. Sound 
had just come in and he was not on easy terms with the new 
medium. The picture was a remake and he was especially 
anxious for it to be a good one. Besides, it was a dangerous 
scene and he was not convinced the cameraman would hold up 
under the strain. 

"No matter what happens/' DeMille told him, "I want you 
to keep grinding. Understand? Don't stop for anything!" 

The scene went perfectly. It was so realistic, in fact, that a 
substitute studio doctor, on a movie set for the first time, him- 
self came unglued. When the cowboy toppled from the horse, 
as the script directed, the doctor assumed it was an emergency. 
He therefore sprinted out to administer first aid. 

At first DeMille was startled. Then he was enraged. With a 
bellow, he dug out after the doctor. The doctor, catching a 
glimpse of the furious director over his shoulder, picked up 
speed and wisely kept going, past the forgotten cowboy and off 
the set entirely. Winded, but still shaking his fist, DeMille gave 
up the chase and returned to his chair. Meanwhile, the camera- 
man had been faithfully grinding away. 

The next morning, DeMille was in the projection room look- 
ing at the rushes of the previous day's shooting. Suddenly, the 
bewildered doctor fled across the screen. In close pursuit was 
a bald-headed man in boots, screaming abuse at him. 


"Who in the world is that?" DeMille asked in genuine 

"That's the substitute studio doctor/' an assistant said. 

"I know that/' DeMille said impatiently. "I mean the man 
using the frightful language." 

"That, sir, is you/' the assistant said. 

"Young man/' DeMille answered, after a painful silence, "that 
may appear to be me, but I assure you it is not. I never used 
language like that in my life!" 

A large segment of the film colony, however, will testify that 
there was nothing complex about DeMille's nature. In fifty 
years a considerable number had a chance to watch him in 
action. Quite a few felt the sting of his lash at one time or 
another, either as bit player or extra on one of his densely popu- 
lated sets. They are willing to vow that he was nothing more 
or less complicated than "a cruel and evil old man." This con- 
cept, if gained from DeMille's behavior during filming of crowd 
scenes, is not without some merit. 

On epic sets seething with extras, the boss was a convul- 
sive force. The memory of one case in point caused the staff 
to shudder for monthsthe siege of Fort Pitt scene in l/n- 
conquered. If they but knew it, the extras had more to fear from 
DeMille than from the Indian braves who were storming the 
walls and lobbing real fireballs into the fort. 

In the course of that day's shooting, we watched the boss 
driven to new heights of wrath. Time after time, the extras 
failed to give him the kind of reaction he wanted, 

"You're about to be scalped alive," he shouted at them 
through a microphone as he rode high on a camera boom. 
"Then suddenly you hear bugles and drums in the distance and 
you know you're going to be saved. Do you understand? You're 
going to be saved! You and your kids and your loved ones. So 


me that kind of reaction? From the way you're acting I merely 

142 lies, Mr. DeMille 

assumed you have just read the market reports and your favorite 
stock has gone up a couple of points. Now, I WANT YOU TO GO 


DeMille took real pleasure in, as he put it, "picking the brains 
of my staff," making it clear to us that he was forever mysti- 
fied how his operation managed to sustain itself on so little 
food. In the course of a day's shooting, under pressure of time 
and expensive sets, DeMille might be successively teacher, 
preacher, tyrant, imperious master, or soft-voiced ridiculer. His 
attack was octopuslike, and it was hard to tell when or how a 
tentacle would reach out for an unsuspecting victim. Seeing two 
assistant directors idly chatting on an important set one day, 
he intoned into the microphone in the matter-of-fact voice 
of a general briefing subordinates: Tm running a set costing 
$50,000 a day, and you gentlemen seem to have found time to 
play at marbles. If you are not quite up to this whole thing, 
may I suggest that you find yourself another picture, perhaps 
one with a kindergarten hour. Think what fun it will be not 
having to put up with the bad temper of an evil director/ 7 

A newcomer learned quickly the difference between a "hot" 
and "cold" DeMille set. The distinction was enormously im- 
portant to his future as a DeMille man. On "cold" DeMille sets 
all was usually well with the world the actresses knew their 
lines, the cameraman was lighting up the scenes quickly, the 
assistant directors marshaled their extras before the cameras 
with the greatest effectiveness in a word, everything on the set 
was working smoothly, and DeMille was happy. 

On a "hot" DeMille set, DeMille was not happy. Many things 
or just one thing might be wrong. One could tell by his manner 
that his temperature was near the bursting point. It was very 


quiet. Some of the older staff members, seeing the telltale crim- 
son flush creep up the back of his neck, headed for the storm 
cellars. On that day, the staff would find reason to be occupied 

It might not have occurred to the newcomer that a set was 
sometimes something else. Least of all could he anticipate that 
he would be staked out for slaughter in order that a totally un- 
related result might be achieved. 

It was DeMille's policy never to criticize a star once the 
picture had started. All sorts of psychology, yes, but never open 
ragging. It wasn't sensible to unnerve a star who held the fate 
of the picture in his hand, once the camera started to grind and 
the costs began to pile up, as they did very quickly on a DeMille 
epic. But there must be some way to discipline a performer who 
was, say, frivolous on the sets or failed to memorize lines, or 
rejected little niceties in make-up. The sources of irritation to 
a mind as intense as the boss's were numberless. 

Though he may have wished it, he could not confront the 
offending actress with a large-caliber revolver and invite her 
to use it on herself. He took another tact peering behind and 
around for someone engaged at the moment in some frivolity 
which might be regarded as improper. This was not easy on a 
DeMille set, where discipline and behavior were usually quite 

Should he find a casual offender, maybe guilty of nothing 
more heinous than popping his chewing gum, a roar like the 
collapse of burning towers would come over the microphone, 
rocking the company back on its heels. All, including the play- 
ful actress, were cowed into reverential silence, and discipline 
was restored. It was on just such an occasion that DeMille 
chose a new recruit to be the sacrificial lamb, though it must 
be said in full truth that DeMille had no idea who the lamb 
was going to be, until the moment he brightly turned up at his 
side to reveal what ordinarily might have been a very cheering 
piece of news namely, that a magazine had accepted an article 

144 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

which could do the picture immense good. The publicist had 
hardly touched on the more important aspects of his triumph 
when the microphones thundered DeMille's pent-up wrath 
to every corner of the sound stage. The loel canto outburst 
went on endlessly against "the crime of interrupting a $50,000- 

a-day set to chatter about some idiotic magazine article " 

Obliquely, DeMille had let the errant performer know that he 
was in no mood for tomfoolery, while the startled rookie stood 
by too shocked to move. 

All that remained for Mr. DeMille to do was to repair the 
shattered spirit of the shorn lamb. This he always undertook 
personally, favoring him with pleasant remarks but never men- 
tioning the episode directly. DeMille went to the newcomer's 
office to which he had repaired, dazed and wounded, less than 
an hour after the ordeal. The boss sat down, exhibiting the 
greatest charm and affability, "I know you understand how 
DeMille works/' he murmured. Tm afraid it's a kind of martyr- 
dom for a great cause, and we all must give a little bit of 

Soon the recruit begin to see a great deal of logic in the way 
DeMille represented it: a sacrifice to expiate for the sins of 
others! A high form of charity, was it not, and he considered 
it so until he had witnessed a succession of these disciplinary 
attacks and found himself struggling to keep the faith. At times 
they were awesome, even to us, but more so to visitors on the 
sets who of course could not understand why a trifling mis- 
demeanor should evoke such wrath and went away feeling sorry 
for the staff. 

One of the granddaddies of these outbursts occurred at 
Sarasota at the Ringling Brothers circus grounds, where we 
were filming The Greatest Show on Earth. 

One of the scenes required a bit of doing because it involved 
a full circus train departing from winter quarters with tardy 
performers boarding it helter-skelter. The "traffic" movement 


of the players in a scene was very difficult and the more De- 
Mille shouted instructions the more confused each "take" be- 
came. It was apparent the actors were having more fun than 
the script called for. Some eight or ten assistants, trying to 
synchronize the movements, finally were ordered to stop every- 
thing. DeMille stood at the microphone until a complete silence 
fell on the outdoor set, by this time ringed with hundreds of 
tourists and townfolks. 

We knew the assistants were marked for slaughter the minute 
DeMille called a halt, and so did the older ones among them. 

He ordered them to line up, and they did, like prisoners at 
the bar, as DeMille began his remarks. "Ladies and gentlemen, 
the men you see before me are assistants. It is their job to 
assist. Assist means to help. We are here on an important pic- 
ture and this is an important scene. It takes a lot of time and 
money to bring people and equipment all the way from Holly- 
wood. Maybe these gentlemen don't realize this. Now, unless 
I can do this scene we will have no picture. These gentlemen 
know this but they either don't have the ability or they don't 
care. In either case they are useless to me. I should encourage 
them to pack up their bags and return to Hollywood, as a 
favor to me, to the cast and the cameramen. Errors in judgment 
I can forgive, stupidity never. If you can't do the job please 
have the courage to tell me, so I can get someone else. . . ." 

There was murmuring among the spectators, and puzzled 
glances, and that night Sarasota buzzed with gossip about that 
man who was directing a motion picture out on the circus 
grounds I 

The feeling was not appreciably lessened by the report 
brought back the following day by witnesses to a shorter but 
more spirited cannonade against a minor subordinate, who just 
happened into a line of fire: "I hate to put this strain on you," 
bellowed the voice through the microphone. "I know these are 
trying times. Indeed a troubled era. This world is upside down. 
Perhaps I should not be asking you to help this scene out by 

146 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

bringing a sandwich to one of our players, especially in times 
of grave national emergency. What I am asking for is A SAND- 

No matter how his operatic explosions appeared to others, 
DeMille insisted that they did not arise from impulse. "My 
ferocity is always studied ferocity. When something really 
makes me angry, I get extremely quiet. Anger is no time for 
words. I use a careful lash. Something of the sort is necessary 
in order to steady a company before a big scene/' 

The punishment, rarely fitting the crime, did not cause 
wholesale resignations, as one might expect, nor anything re- 
sembling it. No matter how taut the set, these skilled crafts- 
men stayed on, appeared with DeMille in one production after 
another. Some risked his spleen because they admired him, 
others because of the prestige of a DeMille picture, and still 
others because they loved a stout heart. And "the old man" 
had the stoutest in the business. They returned chief elec- 
trician, "boom" man, special effects for picture after picture. 
Their skins were thick enough to emerge smiling from a crush- 
ing assault because, in the historic phrase around the DeMille 
unit, "they know how to work with C.B." Set decorator, art 
director, sound recorders, they were the all-Americans on the 
Paramount lot. They measured up to DeMille's perfectionist 
methods. A good deal of affection developed between these 
veterans and the producer, and if they were to know the truth, 
DeMille would not have started a picture without them, though 
it was unlikely he would ever tell them so. 

The boss's burdens were not eased by the fact that after 
years on the sound stages veteran actors find most roles weari- 
some. Particularly was this true of players wrestling with a 
DeMille plot, which had a quality usually associated with the 


birth of an earthquake and did not leave much room for 
triumphs of acting, much less any sort of personal tour de force. 
They were actors who approached a DeMille assignment with 
something short of boundless enthusiasm. DeMille kept an 
alert eye for such blackguards, sizing up their attitude by the 
way they spent their Idle moments on the sets. Those who stood 
at a discreet distance in the background, intently observing 
DeMille's management of a scene, were apt to be rewarded with 
a wave of the hand or an affable comment from the boss a 
sort of gentle recognition of their sense for values. On one occa- 
sion he had promised a young actress a chance in pictures, and 
possibly a contract, if she proved as capable as her several 
boosters claimed. On the day she appeared on the set Mr. 
DeMille was directing a difficult scene. While waiting her turn 
before the camera, the young woman chatted with a visitor. 
Noting her indifference, DeMille turned to an aide: "Tell that 
young woman to take the rest of the day off. We'll call her the 
moment we are ready for her/' It developed that the moment 
never came. 

While he could not always control the doings of his players 
between scenes, there was nothing to prevent him from main- 
taining order in the house. He was rabidly sensitive to back- 
ground noise. 

"That goddamn murmuring behind my back is a hideous con- 
spiracy," he would moan amid a rising babel. 

A half dozen times in the course of a production he would 
seize the microphone and deliver a passionate tirade on the 
evils of idle chatter. For the superlative discourtesy he had a 



We had watched him work tirelessly twelve to fifteen hours 
almost every day during the Samson shooting. At the start of 
the episode in which the strong man slays a thousand Philis- 

148" Yes, Mr. DeMille 

tines, the platoon of actors playing the role of the doomed 
soldiers were supposed to give forth with a low rumble of hate. 

The armored soldiers tried. DeMille didn't like it; the rumble 
didn't have enough body. 

The men tried again, 

"I must have the right murmur from you men/' said DeMille, 
not satisfied. 

For a moment he brightened, 

"You know the kind I mean. The same murmur I Ve been 
getting behind my back day after day and year after year/ 7 

He turned and pointed to crewmen and actors behind him. 

"Listen to it!" he cried, and at that moment the chatter broke 
off. Complete silence. 

"I guess the DeMille era is over/' he said, mopping his brow 
despairingly. "Now I can't even get them to prattle behind my 

An occasional extreme measure was taken to stem the flow 
of his vitriol on the sets. One veteran assistant tried a daring 
feat of sound-stage buccaneering, first enlisting the aid of a 
wardrobe worker. When the unconventional abuse was hitting 
thick and fast, two extras dressed as nuns were spirited "onto 
the sets, as if visiting. The subterfuge worked a couple of times 
but was called off when DeMille acknowledged the presence 
of the good sisters, apologized, and resumed the usual fire and 

DeMille has been described as "the gentle tyrant who has 
left strewn behind him the broken bodies of underlings and 
assistants, though an astonishing number of people profess to 
have told DeMille at one time or another to go jump into a lake." 
It is possible that one per cent of these have actually mustered 
the necessary courage. DeMille, on the other hand, has fre- 
quently offered to supply the gun if the object of his disaffec- 
tion would go out and shoot himself. 


Some incidents indicate that a degree of retaliatory courage 
has stirred the souls of a few spirited workers. 

At a costume preview one day DeMille asked an assistant for 
an opinion on a Delilah outfit to be worn by Hedy Lamarr, He 
said he liked it. 

'Well, I don t like it." DeMille said and, turning to the expert, 
added, "I am not sure I can trust your judgment in these 

The assistant made no reply. 

A few minutes later DeMille asked him to express himself 
on another outfit, and the man said, "If you feel you can't trust 
my judgment I see no point in expressing it," and walked from 
the room, a few minutes later notifying the front office of his 

Many of course have left DeMille for more serene pastures, 
giving rise to a remark popular with the staff during World 
War II "Anyone who leaves DeMille for the service is a 

There was one occasion at the bungalow that was looked 
upon with feelings both of pleasure and dread. The first show- 
ing of any picture, in its roughly edited form, before select 
members of the staff who regarded it as their day of judg- 
ment, followed months, even years, of effort. Weeks in advance 
writers, secretaries and aides would begin to feel the tension 
of the first unreeling; on that day they would witness for the 
first time a continuity of visual proof as to their skill or lack 
of it. Their work passes in review on immutable film that, at 
this stage, allows for no major retreat or apology. For good or 
ill, what has been done is done. 

There was no need, then, for words of caution among mem- 
bers of the staff. The writers naturally would be careful to 
refrain from anything except laudatory comment about the set 
decorator's work; and in equal vein the decorator, should he 

150 JBS, Mr. DeMille 

speak of anything outside of his own interest, will have pleasant 
things to say about the writing. 

It was no occasion for boldness. One might feel inspired in 
the way of criticism of the picture to make minor suggestions 
toward corrections that were both possible and economical, but 
criticism of a sort that looked to major revisions would be sheer 
folly. It would be too late for major changes and no staff mem- 
ber would be so unrealistic as to suggest any. 

The usual tensions were felt on the day we gathered for the 
first rough showing of Unconquered. Two writers, a film editor, 
researcher, and script girl were among the small group led into 
the studio projection room by Mr. DeMille. They knew that 
they would be called upon by the boss to give their estimate 
of the total effort an effort that required three years of work 
and five million dollars! 

They would watch the picture as intently as possible, at the 
same time their minds would be busy thinking up pear-shaped 
adjectives with which to shower the picture and the boss. 
Pushed well to the rear would be any impulse to "level with 
the boss/' even should they happen to detect serious defects 
that might call for major revision, itself a remote possibility* 
At this point, it seemed, it was too late for the truth. 

The veterans of the staff never varied this principle; but 
this time there was a newcomer in their midst. 

The picture ended, and Mr. DeMille began pacing back and 
forth on the center cross-aisle, shooting little glances at the 
staff people. The newcomer sat to the rear of the room. Ordi- 
narily he might be justified in feeling quite relaxed because, 
being new to the bungalow, there was little in the picture that 
could be traced to his department. 

DeMille stopped, looked in his direction. 

Td like to have you tell me what you think of the picture," 
and with the question all eyes turned toward the young man. 

He began on a proper note. 


"It's a very great picture/' he said. If lie had stopped then, 
all might have been well. 

His next comment drained the blood from every person in 
the room, with the possible exception of DeMille. 

"But there is one thing, Mr. DeMille. I don't like the ending. 
I think it's all wrong. It makes a fool out of the villain.* 

DeMille nodded, without expression. 

The newcomer continued. 

"There's Gary Cooper with his gun drawn, pointed at the 
villain's back. Now the villain is a pretty shrewd guy. He's a 
powerful villain all through the picture, but what he does next 
makes him look like a fool, maybe even an idiot. He tries to 
grab his gun out of the holster on the horse saddle, swing around 
and try to shoot down a man who's already got the draw on 
him. It doesn't make sense." 

The awful truth was that it didn't make sense. Why it had 
not been detected in the script or before shooting will remain 
a mystery. Gary Cooper had gone away, his contract finished; 
the crew was dispersed, the sets dismantled it was too late 
now to make a point of the ending 

There was not a sound when the new man finished. Mr. 
DeMille continued to pace to and fro, his eyes cast to the floor. 
Then he turned and glared at the writers. 

"If what this man says is true we might just as well throw 
this picture into the ashcan." 

The writers promptly disagreed with the newcomer's esti- 
mate. Reason after reason poured forth in the next half-hour, 
in a do-or-die effort to overturn his logic and justify the villain's 
last desperate act. 

The scene was not reshot. It was, however, tightened by the 
removal of a number of frames from the footage in order to 
speed up the villain's movements as he reached for his gun. 

It had been a terrifying experience, a monumental disregard 
for one of the bungalow's most sacred rules Don'* try to out- 

152 Yw, Mr. DeMilk 

shine a staff member. Remember, there are no promotions in 
the DeMiUe bungalow. 

Another staff member had a haunting memory of the time he 
was called upon to write an article for Mr. DeMille's by-line for 
a weekly publication. Having little time to prepare, he dug into 
the files and composed the article with data taken almost 
verbatim from two previously published articles. 

This was submitted to the boss, who promptly returned it 
with his verdict succinctly set forth in several places, in one 
word Baloney. 

Irritated, the assistant apprised his employer that the article 
was a combination of two articles, setting forth the date and 
place of publication of each. He added in his memo, The por- 
tions which are marked "baloney" are in exact text from the 
two articles. Taking the bull by the horns, he added, I had 
assumed that what passed your by-line then would be satis- 
factory now. In view of this may I suggest that someone else 
may wish to try his hand at an article on the same or any other 

The boss made no mention of the matter, other than to in- 
struct another staff man to "write a fresh article unless we all 
have agreed that we are utterly devoid of new ideas." 

A key to his progressiveness may be indicated in the incident 
perhaps a partial answer to the wonderment of so many as 
to how he was: able to keep pace with a constantly changing 
industry. The acceptable patterns of yesterday may have lost 
their value and meaning to a mind constantly probing for 
today's challenges. 

Occasionally a coltish staff member would risk the uncharted 
seas of repartee, at which the boss himself was no raw hand. 
One day he stepped owt of his office to read aloud a fan letter 
which endled with the devout hope, "What this country needs 
i$ more Cecil B. DeMilles." 


With sudden bravado an assistant who was listening blurted 
out, "Gad! what a frightful prospect/' 

DeMille broke the stunned silence with a loud guffaw. "Yes, 
isn't it so. The world can hardly handle the one it's got" 

The assistant later confessed to a sudden panic the moment 
he had uttered the remark. "It could have been curtains if C. B. 
were having one of his bad days/' 

On one occasion he was on stage at a local theater, comment- 
ing on the picture the audience was about to see. A few of the 
stars of the film were seated in the front row. Suddenly someone 
at the rear of the house, apparently fearful that DeMille was 
not going to call the performers onto the stage, shouted, "We 
want to see the stars/* 

DeMille paused, peered into the darkness beyond the lights 
and with an elfish grin shouted back, "Evidently, my good man, 
you do not understand the egotism of a director!" 


OF all our duties none caused more anguish than 
the writing of letters for DeMifle's signature. 

He had a hard and fast rule: prompt replies to all letters. 
Promptness though was not enough; each letter must be bril- 
liant, a gem of the purest ray serene. We were only too well 
aware of his vibrant animosity to conventional business phrases. 

The boss would not have been caught dead with such hum- 
drum pleasantries as "Thank you for your very kind comment," 
or "It was courteous of you to trouble to write." 

Nor would he permit a letter to begin with the personal "I." 
That was, he felt, a mark of arrogance, so we usually began his 
letters with "There was . . ." or "It was . * /' keeping in mind 

154 Jes> Mr. DeMilk 

always that the spirit of a letter must reflect most admirably on 
the signer. 

We struggled with what came to be known as "hog letters/' 

A "hog letter * was viewed with universal horror by the staff. 
It meant that draft after draft had been rejected by DeMille, 
that in all likelihood an unfortunate aide was pacing back and 
forth in his office, exclaiming to anyone who would listen, "I've 
got one of those hog letters cooking/' 

"Hog letters" came into being shortly after the filming of 
The Story of Dr. Wassell The Navy hero of the story, Dr. 
Corydon Wassell, an Arkansas country doctor, sent DeMille a 
razorback hog. It was a royal animal, big and firm, representa- 
tive of its breed. 

Touched by the gesture, DeMille rallied his staff. 

A letter to Dr. Wassell must be written that would rank as 
high in the art of letter writing as this hog ranked among razor- 
backs. The letter must move Wassell as much as the hog has 
moved DeMille. 

In a brief caucus out of DeMille's hearing, the staff agreed 
the only way to achieve that effect was to send Wassell a com- 
parable hog or maybe one of DeMille's "epic turkeys/ 7 Both 
being out of the question, they set to the task of trying to 
fashion a piece of prose that would engulf Wassell with its 
transcendental beauty. 

Sydney Biddell, a literate fellow who was then helping with 
production affairs, was the first to send in a draft. 

It was rejected as "too lofty/' 

The second was "not lofty enough." 

The third, "not warm enough/' 

By the fourth and fifth submissions, Biddell had vowed a 
permanent oath against all hogs, with special calumny on the 
heads of Arkansas razorbacks. 

Observing Biddell floundering, DeMille called for drafts 
from another assistant. 

Then another, until two weeks had passed. 


Wassell still had not been thanked. Now courtesy was in 

DeMille angrily rescinded the order and advised the staff 
he was writing the reply himself. The next day he wired: 


There was no parallel in memory; the Wassell note was the 
least ornate ever known to leave the office. 

DeMille dispensed the letter-writing chore on an assembly- 
line basis, assigning letters requiring a light touch to a staffer 
presumed to have a sense of humor, and weighty ones to him 
having a way with more portentous phrases. 

He might reject an assistant, as he did one, because "that 
fellow has no soul," the reply in question being one that re- 
quired a great deal of soul. 

Most of our misery developed over letters in the twilight 
area, neither light nor grave; here we had no clues how to 
measure up to DeMille's high, and sometimes mysterious, con- 
cept of what the reply should contain. 

We undertook in one letter to describe DeMille's boyhood 
affection for the late David Belasco, using a phrase, My awe of 
him was full and unremitting. He returned the draft with the 
marginal comment, I don't know what unremitting means but 
it sounds unfortunate. 

On another occasion DeMille had been presented a glowing 
testimony by a group of Canadian exhibitors who collectively 
represented four hundred years of experience in their field. 

A staff man suggested the reply: 

What answer can there be to such praise as you have given, 
founded on experience reaching back 400 years? Because of what 
it represents, your wire is a scroll of honor for any man. I can 

156 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

only accept it with the deepest humility, and thank you for it. 

DeMille's one-word judgment on this effort was written 
across the top: Nuts. 

Another letter was supposed to tell of the episode in Mr. 
DeMille's boyhood when he was promised a pony by Belasco. 
It pictured young DeMille on the point of tears because no 
pony was in sight; then we had him saying in momentary revolt, 
"If the pony is in the barn, I won't take it. I'll pass it by." This 
part DeMille slashed out, commenting on the margin, I may 
have been young but not an imbecile. 

We had no desire to return fire with fire; on the contrary, 
we thought only in terms of defense. Our sole hope was to 
parry a sudden DeMille thrust in a manner that would not 
result in too great a loss of dignity; a victory always was 
farthest from our thoughts. Our little caucuses featured a 
dominant note: "If he comes up with this objection, Til tell him 
this . . ." Whatever the difference of station among the staff 
members, the common menace bound them into a sympathetic 
brotherhood. A high-salaried writer in his hour of trial would 
seek the counsel of a mere hireling, at that moment quite in- 
clined to agree with DeMille's historic remark to a newspaper- 
man: "My assistants think I'm an insane poodle because they 
never know who I'm going to bite next/' 

His oft-repeated pronouncement that he would fracture any 
man who tried to alibi his way out of a situation worked a hard- 
ship on those who had valid excuses. It became a matter of 
shrewd presentation, perhaps prefaced with, "Mr. DeMille, I 
know how you feel about alibis and I wouldn't think of men- 
tioning this if it wasn't the plain fact of the case " The 
staffers agreed DeMille had a faculty for sorting out dishonest 
alibis. A confession of atrocious guilt might please and soften 
him. Once an aide, having committed what he felt was a 


modest error, said, Tve made a stupid mistake beyond all be- 
lief/' to which DeMille replied, "I've made some pretty bad 
ones myself." 

The salutary result of this confession in open court spread 
quickly, and as a painful but quick remedy, full admissions of 
guilt grew in popularity among staff members. 

DeMille could take eulogy in stride, but like most men of 
accomplishment he was sensitive to criticism. His doings in- 
spired a great many letters, a hundred favorable to one un- 
favorable. Few though they were, the critical letters were apt 
to slow down the operation, sometimes even bring it to a halt. 

In the summer of 1947 Kasper Monahan, the wise, affable 
drama editor of the Pittsburgh Press, visited the bungalow and 
spent the night with Mr, DeMille at Paradise, kter writing a 
series of three articles under the title, "The Fabulous Mr. 

One was about Paradise, which the critic described as "a 
walled-off valley ruled by an absolute monarch ... a wilderness 
domain where DeMille reigns as king ... a Shangri-la echoing 
to the cry of mountain lions and the pop of champagne bottles," 

It turned out that the Press articles stirred a soul in Munhall, 
Pa. This particular reader was moved to criticism by Monahan's 
crisp references to Paradise, picked up his pen and wrote 
DeMille that such men as Tom Edison "did not see fit to wall 
themselves in," adding, No, Cecil, I am afraid that, stripped 
down, you are just a forked carrot like the rest of us Jou, 
I fear, are a little man trying to look great. Why don't you try 
screening a play about a proud, selfish, narrow man with delu- 
sions about cheating nature and base it on your own life. 

Mr. DeMille called us into conference on how to handle the 
situation and dissipate whatever similar public sentiment was 
aroused by the Press articles. We called Monahan, who agreed 
to print the letter alongside whatever reply Mr. DeMille cared 
to make. After endless revisions of drafts, a reply was sent to 
the man in Mvmhall, and a copy to Monahan. 

158 Y^ Mr. DeMitte 

DeMille's reply pointed to his father's ministry which he 
said he was now privileged to carry on through motion pictures, 
the similarity of work between Edison's and his, causing him 
to retreat to a mountainous wilderness when wrestling with 
"picture ideas that I believe will bring happiness to millions/' 
just as Edison retreated to the 'little dark room in his house 
in Llewelyn Park/' He concluded: Will you write another letter 
and tell me in what way I am a "proud, selfish man"? 

Both letters appeared in the Press a short time later, pro- 
viding readers unexpectedly with a candid, softly mordant in- 
sight into the workings of the Hollywood producer s mind. 

DeMille went to special pains to inject certain touches in his 
pictures, some merely decorative. His clinical survey of every 
set kept decorators and researchers in a whirlpool of uncer- 
tainty. There were times when they would have sworn he had a 
telescopic lens attached to each retina, so remarkable was his 
ability to single out little faults in the most populated scenes. 

This sensitivity was put to a severe test many times during 
production of his Biblical pictures, mostly by extras unfamiliar 
with religious symbols. At the end of a particularly rough day 
he spied several "followers of Christ" making the Sign of the 
Cross improperly, that is, from right to left shoulder. DeMille 
told his first assistant, the late Edward Salven, to find out what 
their religious beliefs were. The result was varied, but there 
was not a Catholic among them. "Fire them. Get me all Catho- 
lics and have them here tomorrow/' DeMille ordered. Relating 
the incident later, Salven said he didn't get replacements. "We 
taught the ones who were fired how to make the Sign of the 
Cross, and brought them back in, and we got by with it. But 
you don't take a chance like that often with the old man." 

DeMille was almost irrationally allergic to sloppy, half- 
hearted acting. Even more than an alibi, it caused him im- 
measurable grief. There is an oft-told episode, typifying his 
shrewdness underfire, that took place one day when he was 


deploying an army of civilians for a battle scene, itself a lolling 
job. DeMille had shot take after take. It was then well beyond 
the luncheon hour. Briefing the players on the meaning of the 
next scene, his eye fell on a feminine extra talking to someone 
next to her. He called her up to the microphone, suggested that 
if what she was saying was that important she should tell it to 
the entire company. The woman hesitated. 

"Go on, dear lady, tell us," urged the producer in a polite 

She was a cool-spirited lass, obviously no newcomer to pic- 
tures. She bent on him a glare of resentment. 

"All right, if you insist. I said, *Why doesn't the bald-headed 
old bastard let us go to lunch?' * 

DeMille's eyes danced. He loved this kind of spirit. He 
released a charming smile. "An excellent idea. Company dis- 

The boss looked upon each scene as a personal challenge. 
Having spent months in preparation, his mind encompassed 
every step in the script, first to last. There rarely was need for 
a caucus on the next move, each sequence laid out ahead of 
time in bold outline. Delay, therefore, meant only one thing: 
someone had blundered. Assistants on the sets spent a good 
deal of time running from cameraman to electrician to "props" 
to dialogue director, inquiring, "Mr. DeMille wants to know 
what's holding us up." Once, his patience shattered over the 
time taken in changing Betty Button's trapeze bar, he roared 
into the microphone: "I opened the Red Sea in less time than 

Another severe test of his patience took place on the huge 
"Pennsylvania forest" set for Unconquered, spreading across 
two Paramount sound stages. Midway in the shooting, a sound 
was heard, like a dove cooing. Someone spied the bird an 
Indian dove. That morning it was in splendid voice. DeMille 
was familiar enough with Allegheny wildlife to know this 

160 Yes, Mr, DeMilk 

basso chanticleer had no place in his scene. He ordered it caught 
and turned over to some humane society. The entire company 
waited as the pursuit led from one tree to another. Time was 
ticking away the budget, and a few minutes of such capering 
was sufficient for the producer. Could it be that the agent of 
some rival producer was behind the ghastly jest? "Find that 
little son of a bitch and shoot it," he shouted, "and if there's 
anyone here from a society for the prevention of cruelty to birds 
111 be very happy to consult with them in the privacy of my 


FOR years DeMille would not undertake a picture 
without Eddie Salven, who became indispensable for his 
ability to marshal large crowds in scenes involving difficult 

The tireless, ebullient Salven eased many a tense DeMille set 
with his lively humor. Crackling rejoinders which press agents 
often attributed to their famous clients could be traced to 
Salven. One of the more famous sluiced out during the pre- 
liminary work on Samson and Delilah. Salven had paused at a 
writers' discussion of the scene in which Samson slays the 
Philistines with the jaw of an ass. After a few minutes, Salven 
raised a hand. "Just a minute," he said. "The jawbone of an ass! 
Never! This is a DeMille picture and we gotta use the whole 

Salven appeared entitled to number himself in the small and 
brave clique who have undertaken to parry DeMille's thrusts. 
The claim grew out of one of Salven's most adverse days. 
DeMille had been roasting him all morning, the abuse growing 
in volume and variety until Salven could stand it no longer. He 


confronted the producer, who was sitting in a high chair and 
pouring vituperation into the microphone held by the perennial 
"mike boy." 

*Tm no mind reader/' the harassed director lashed out 
furiously. 'Tell me what you want and Til do it. Now! What in 
hell would you like to have?" 

Feigning an expression of hurt innocence, DeMille let a few 
moments elapse as his gaze went slowly from Salven, to crew- 
men, back to Salven. Then in a low voice, meek, almost cring- 
ing, he said, Td like to have an assistant director who won't 
bawl me out in public/' 

A DeMille favorite of silent days, Thomas Meighan, often 
testified to the producer's talent for getting results through 
terror. Meighan apparently was one who came under the boss's 
hypnotic influence, for he willingly faced the hazards of wild 
animals and physical upheaval. In Male and Femak, he agreed 
to play a love scene with a chloroformed leopard flung over 
his shoulders. A hero making love while wearing a 250-pound 
neckpiece was viewed not only as unique but the last word in 
implacable gallantry. Midway in the love scene with Gloria 
Swanson, Meighan thought he felt movement in the soft under- 
belly that lay athwart his neck. He was right; the beast was 
regaining consciousness because of insufficient dosage. Now, in 
silent films a little movement does not matter, and sounds of 
course do not matter at all. DeMille was eager to finish the 
scene and gestured wildly toward a "safety man" with a high- 
powered rifle. 

"You're doing great, Tommy! That cat's just dreaming! We 
can't stop now!" he yelled from behind the camera. 

Meighan wasn't too sure the cat was only dreaming, for now 
there were definite tremors and guttural groans; but he kept 
going, and finished not a second too soon. With a lurch the 
leopard broke Meighan's hold and flopped crazily to the ground 
as crewmen with ropes moved in, and actors scattered to safety. 

Meighan's recollection of this incident remained vivid for 

162 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

years. '1 took my chances with the leopard. You just don't know 
what DeMille does to people who spoil scenes." 

On the other hand, the producer was filled with dark per- 
plexity over Victor Matured refusal to engage in controlled 
combat with a lion in Samson and Delilah He was not expect- 
ing more of Mature than was called for by the Book of Judges. 
There was no gainsaying the fact that the actor was portraying 
an Old Testament hero who not only crushed beasts with bare 
hands but is Scripturally acknowledged to have carried away 
the huge city gates of Gaza. DeMille decided not to meet the 
problem head-on, thinking Mature might be converted over to 
the idea if it simmered for a while. He went into the actor s 
dressing room one day. Mature had not yet given an answer. 
DeMille broadly hinted at the importance of the Samson-slays- 
lion scene. 

"I never use stuffed animals in my pictures if it can be 
helped/* he said. "And I'll tell you why; they always look 

The fun-loving actor grinned. "Look, C.B., there's only one 
Mature and I would hate to see him go this way." 

The producer asked him to consider the disposition of the 
beast they were to use. "I am not going to press the matter, but 
I can assure you it will be perfectly safe. This lion was trained 
as a cub and fed on milk." 

When DeMille had departed, Mature mused to a friend, "I 
was raised on milk, too, but I eat meat now." 

As a last-ditch measure, DeMille discussed the problem with 
Hedy Lamarr, who volunteered to parade the aging beast past 
Matured dressing room door. This she did, nervously clutching 
a chain-leash. Mature poked his head out of the dressing room 
and applauded. "You're so beautiful, Hedy, I can see how any 
lion would follow you around." He felt the attitude of the lion 
might change drastically toward a male, particularly one at- 
tempting to apply an unfriendly headlock. 

What Mature finally took on in combat was an expertly 


stuffed specimen. DeMille was morbidly uncomfortable. He 
ordered the set closed to all except a skeleton crew, and police- 
men guarded every entry. Once when a workman let out an 
amused chuckle at the sight of the perspiring actor squeezing 
the inert mass, DeMille raged, "If I hear another laugh, 111 clear 
this goddamn set/' The scene was intercut with other shots of 
a bruising scuffle between a real lion named Jackie and his 
trainer. It proved to be one the best sequences in the picture. 
Even so, DeMille's congenital showmanship inwardly recoiled 
at making any concessions to the stuffed creature publicly. 
Whenever asked by reporters to explain how he staged the lion 
fight, he would reply mysteriously, It is a real fight between a 
man and a lion. You saw it, tell me what you think." 

It was not unusual for a visitor to exclaim on what was going 
on behind the camera, for the boss was able at any moment to 
put on a more fascinating show than his script writers. The 
train wreck climax of The Greatest Show on Earth was a superb 
challenge to DeMille splintered cars, fire and smoke, wild 
animals prowling in the shambles, great numbers of dead and 
wounded. It took a week to shoot the hand-made cataclysm in 
the course of which DeMille unloosed a flow of commentary 
reflecting how he was able to manage scenes of such size. Typi- 
cal is the following verbatim excerpt: 

I saw them coming in and around . . . the men and poles in 
and around ... I know it, I know it ... I am looking with 
my eye. You are looking with the finder . . . Hey! What have 
you done with your hands. There are three men here, and 
I see only two pairs of hands , . . Do YOU HEAR ME? WHAT 


WHAT HAVE YOU ... There, that's better ... You're right, 

right. There were only two men when I rehearsed it The 

elephant was much farther forward. THE ELEPHANT WAS 
MUCH FARTHER FORWARD! Will someone in tbis vast assem- 
blage of talented assistants listen to me? We've only been 
at this three days now. Not a bad record, you know. If we 

164 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

keep going at this speed we may finish the picture by 
1963 GET THAT ELEPHANT BACK! He keeps edging for- 
ward all the time [To Miss Button, who is urging an 
elephant to lift wreckage off Charlton Heston] Betty, is it 
better for you if the elephant starts there? Okay, that's all 
right with me. All right. Elephant! Action! Hold it! Mel, you 
take out the kitty. TAKE AWAY THE KITTY! I won't be using 
her on this line Let me see the action from where you 

drop -down Are there any legs or anything in there? 

Get your leg there. No! No! YOUR LEG! Do you want me to 
show you where your leg is! That's it, that's it, you're doing 
better already. Now you know where your leg is. You have 
me to thank for that. You see what you learn working on 

a DeMille picture Are there any legs on the other side? 

. . . Wait a minute. I want to see this spot where he says 
that. I think ... I think we should give a little bit of play . . . 

I want to get you in while he's saying his line to you 

Do you need a cushion [To Miss Button kneeling]. She can 
have a cushion if she needs it. It doesn't show Do that 
with the entrance once, will you, for me, Betty? ... I would 
keep John's legs right there, to look like he's still pulling on 
that pole Here's my . . . Oh! for God's sake, why don't 
you turn it? All you have to do is turn it. I don't care 
whether you focus the mike or not. It takes you longer to 

do that than it does for me to make a motion picture 

[To sound man] It isn't a lion roaring from the cage. It's 
hard to get tiger roars but it's easy to get lions. Pick up 

tigers whenever you can. . . . Get me a finder Wait a 

minute, wait a minute! We may have to ... STOP! EVERY- 

DeMille's bold methods on the sets were viewed with envy 
by most Hollywood producers. Though they considered him 
foolhardy at times, they secretly admired his skill in getting 
important stars to take the risks. Producer Leo McCarey, a 
DeMille booster, looked upon the showman's powers of per- 
suasion as a form of black magic. "No one knows how or why 
the stars do it," he says. "Not even the stars themselves, but 
they do." 


Implacably, DeMille weighed the dangers. He made a point 
always of holding one solid trump in reserve. Should an actor 
show the least inclination to back away from a dangerous as- 
signment, DeMille would stoutly come forward, with studied 
gravity to alert the company to the imminence of a tour de 
force, then perform the feat himself in the grand manner of a 
Shakespearean tragedian. 

For the Samson picture he had engaged a 6-f oot-5, 260-pound 
wrestler named 'Wee Willie" Davis to play a character called 
the King's Wrestler. In his big scene, Wee Willie was to snare 
Victor (Samson) Mature with a bullwhip thirty feet long, the 
end of the whip to wind sharply around Matured waist. The 
actor was questioning DeMille closely on the possible effects 
of this maneuver, it being evident that Matured confidence in 
Wee Willie as a handler of the bullwhip was not overwhelming. 
In reply, DeMille strode out onto the set, and struck a muscular 
pose twenty feet from the bearded giant. "Okay, Willie, let me 
have it" Willie brought the whip forward from a long back- 
hand swing, snapping it sharply around DeMille's chest, which 
was protected only by his shirt. It left a welt as thick as a pencil, 
but no one that day knew of the injury. DeMille walked loftily 
back to his high chair. He said it was as simple as that, and 
suggested they get on with the picture. 

Later, in the wedding-brawl scene, DeMille stepped into the 
breach for Bill Farnum, brother of Dustin. Bill faced the task 
of being struck by a plaster block hurled from a balustrade 
by Mature in the midst of the free-for-all, which, as the Bible 
intimates, reached quite a nasty stage. DeMille went through 
the movements necessary, he said, to avoid injury when being 
hit on the chest by seventy pounds of plaster. 

"One has to roll with it," he said. 

He waved to Mature to hurl the object. Mature, eyes gleam- 
ing, raised the chunk over his head and let go with more elan 
than the occasion seemed to warrant. The full force of the blow 
sent the sixty-eight-year-old producer to the floor with an alarm- 

166 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

ing crash. Dazed, he rose, calmly turned to Farnum. "A little 
more rolling with the blow will do it/' he said. 

Physically DeMille was as tough as a steer s horn. He directed 
the last half of one of his epics from a stretcher, brushing aside 
the doctor s advice to allow himself a few weeks to recuperate 
from an operation. He was seventy-three when he marched onto 
the Egyptian desert in the van of thousands of extras, recruited 
from nomadic tribes by sheiks acting as his agents, to film the 
final picture of his life, The Ten Commandments. While climb- 
ing the volcanic peaks of Mount Sinai he suffered a mild heart 
attack This time he obeyed a physician's orders against further 
effort of the kind, not only out of fear for the now real danger 
to his own welfare but also of what might happen to his and 
Paramount's $12~million investment should he be sidelined. The 
film, released in 1956, was his second version of the Exodus. The 
upheaval that beset the first version in 1923 was still a piquant 
memory. Notwithstanding, his indomitable press agents sent 
dispatches from Egypt to the United States relating how 
DeMille had carried on against medical advice. The press was 
enchanted but back at Paramount there were alarmed reactions. 
The attack forced him to film scenes at Paramount which he had 
planned to shoot on the African location. The concession to his 
doctors was a temporary one; back at the studio the boss re- 
turned to his old pace, with family members and Paramount 
executives failing in an effort to slow him down. 

Times considerably less lush would have befallen Hollywood 
doctors had all their movie clientele been blessed with DeMille's 
sturdiness. His dentist proclaimed him to be dentally perfect 
except for one small filling. At one period, however, he was 
afflicted by severe back pains that almost brought him to heel 
Unwilling to take the time to see a doctor, he became interested 


in a powder which a studio executive credited with having 
almost mystical powers. "It's called Gamma Ray," the friend 
said. "I put it next to my back once for a few minutes and the 
aches disappeared/' Not a little mystical himself on occasion, 
DeMille prevailed upon the friend to secure for "him some of 
the Gamma Ray, about $500 worth. The powder was sealed in 
glass inside a gold case about the size of a five-cent piece. 
DeMille taped it on, at the small of his back, and later told 
the staff his aches had disappeared. Although the powder had 
no therapeutic value in that particular application, the boss put 
great store by it, even insisted that an assistant experiencing 
similar aches tape it to his back. The man did, with no results 
other than several days of anguish which he suffered when he 
misplaced the precious vial and thought for a time it had been 
swallowed by his two-year-old daughter. The boss's seeming 
immunity to run-of-the-mill illnesses from this or that virus 
evoked many astonished comments, to which he usually replied, 
"No bug is brave enough or mean enough to live in me." 


IN his office one day Mr. DeMille was commenting 
that he had not had the benefit of a college education. "I have 
been accused of not being able to read, but no one has ever 
said that I can't add " 

To prove his point he began telling us how in the old days 
they poured chemicals from the film-developing room down an 
open gutter that ran to a nearby sewer. 

"The chemicals discolored the gutters and we were warned 
by the City of Los Angeles to dispose of the solutions in some 
other way. A kindly old soul came along and offered to haul 
away the hypo for twenty-five cents a tank. I did a little figuring 

168 Ye*, Mr. DeMille 

and found lie couldn't make expenses that way. While I am a 
great believer in human kindness, I never heard of anyone 
doing anything for nothing so I refused his offer and waited to 
see what would happen. Other studios had signed up with the 
old guy and a few days later he came back and offered to do it 
for nothing. Then he said he would pay me twenty-five cents a 
tank. I eventually told him I would not sell the stuff at all but 
would go fifty-fifty with him if he let me in on his secret." 

He paused, opened a drawer of his desk and withdrew a 
glittering little ingot. 

c Tve kept it all these years as a reminder to be careful when 
someone wants to buy something from me. Well, it's solid silver. 
You see, this man had discovered that the silver in the hypo 
could be reclaimed, I learned his secret and it paid most of 
our chemical bills for quite a while/' 

There was much of the mule trader in DeMille, a trait that 
ran like a golden thread through the fabric of his business con- 
tracts. The native shrewdness was observed by a Federal court 
in a tax suit against the DeMille corporation in the early 1930's. 
In the action the Government claimed the company had ac- 
cumulated a surplus far beyond its corporate purposes, and de- 
manded additional taxes on more than a million dollars. 

The Government lost, and DeMille preserved his company's 
capital-gains advantages. In an obiter dictum, the court took 
time to take a perplexed and admiring glance at DeMille's way 
of doing business. It commented on the company policy of in- 
vesting no money of its own in film productions and using the 
facilities of other studios. 

As a bargainer, DeMille had a rule of thumb: "Cut the price 
in half, then argue like hell." He enjoyed a tactical advantage 
in the case of actors eager for a DeMille picture "credit" on 
their record, and was able to press this advantage with con- 
siderable effectiveness among up-and-coming stars. 

During the casting of Greatest Show on Earth James Stewart, 


the actor, sent word through an agent of his acceptance of the 
part of the clown. It was good news; DeMille was secretly 
determined to engage Stewart, at the right price of course, for 
a role which he felt the popular star was eminently qualified to 
play. What almost upended the boss was the disclosure that 
Stewart's charge would be only $50,000 one-fourth the actor's 
usual price per picture! 

Mr, DeMille was edified, and naturally perplexed. Even after 
Stewart explained his decision, he remained perplexed. Stewart 
told us that all his life he had dreamed of playing a clown, 
a burning desire from boyhood, and his elation over the offer 
was so great that he decided to set a price that DeMille could 
not refuse. 

Noble sentiments always moved the boss, especially in later 
years when his numerous political and union adversities im- 
pressed upon him the value of higher motives. On this occasion, 
however, he was able to put aside this reverence long enough 
one day to reflect on the outcome if he had had the foresight 
to reject Stewart's offer and haggle with him. "After all/* he 
mused, "the role of clown wasn't the biggest in the picture." 

During his relatively brief association with Mr. DeMille, Dan 
Lord observed him to be "a strange and fascinating blend of 
absolute monarch and charming gentleman, a prince with the 
instincts of a Barnum, a man with the Midas touch, a film 
director who made even more money in the banking business, 
extravagant, while all the time he never lost sight of a penny 
or really wasted a single foot of film." 

The late Roy Burns was DeMille's purchasing agent for forty 
years. Stocky, humorless, irascible, Burns won some eminence 
as one of the toughest traders in the movie mart. In time he 
drove bargains that drew grunts of satisfaction even from the 
boss. Burns moved in mysterious ways, never revealing the na- 
ture or outcome of a mission except in whispered disclosures 
to the boss. He did a good deal of scurrying back and forth, and 
had little to say to the staff; he communicated his findings to 

170 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

the boss, mouth-to-ear, in the manner of a man about to dis- 
close the identity of a new ocean. 

For the circus picture, Burns grappled with the task of moving 
hundreds of extras and "bit" players to Sarasota for a six-week 
stay. But worse, he was not to pay more than $175 weekly in 
the face of the fact that most, under guild rates, earned $200 to 
$300. Burns was able to keep the figure at $175 or under by 
holding up the combined lure of Florida sunshine and DeMille 

Some years before, much secrecy was provided to protect 
well-known players who had taken minor roles in The King of 
Kings. They were artists whose pay ranged from $350 to $1,000 
weekly, some working for as little as $25 a day to tide them 
over the dull season. Beards and flowing robes concealed their 
identity, and their names were not mentioned in the cast of 

One of DeMifle's old hands, Art Rosson, a capable second- 
unit or location" director, foraged for years in out-of-the-way 
places to film unusual backgrounds. His first assignment was 
back in 1935, on The Plainsman. A small man with a world of 
patience, Rosson's eyes twinkle when he recalls efforts to meet 
the boss's specifications. "I don't remember a single time when 
he approved immediately any scene I ever shot," he says, "and 
of course he would jump up and down over what he felt were 
wasted dollars/' But most of Rosson s work somehow always 
appeared in the final footage. 

During the screening of considerable location footage which 
Rosson had shot for Unconquered, DeMille found more than 
usual to complain about, at one point severely rapping a par- 
ticular scene. 

tt l cannot understand why Mr. Rosson wasted his time," Mr. 
DeMille growled, addressing, not Rosson, who was sitting 
nearby, but the assembled technicians. "To put it plainly this 
has cost us a lot of money, and to make it even plainer, the 
scene stinks/' 


He turned and glared at Rosson. After a few moments, 
Rosson said softly, "I didn't shoot that scene, Mr. DeMille." 

"You didn't! Then who did?" 

"That was one of yours, sir/' 

Like a flash, DeMille barked, "I don't care who shot the scene, 
I say it stinks and it has got to come out!" 

In the early days DeMille had a cameraman whose skill was 
marred by an unfortunate habit He would forget to remove 
the cover from the camera lens, the equivalent of shooting 
without film* When he was engaged, DeMille gave specific in- 
structions as to this failing. "If you discover you have forgotten 
the cover," DeMille advised, "don t tell anyone. Just leave the 
studio quietly and don't come back." One day the man did 
forget; he left the studio without a word and was not heard 
from again. 

The Hollywood climate bred an appetite for wealth that 
could be attained with speed and, if at all possible, honor. At 
the height of its most acquisitive era, the colony bristled in- 
ternally with resourcefulness, sly gambits and display of wits. 
On the prowl for largess, the untalented chased studio execu- 
tives with lively vigor, well-dressed mendicants wreathed in 
smiles. With this much hounding going on night and day, 
affable and deceptive as it was, dispensers of favors were ever 
on their guard. Personages like DeMille were often forced into 
protective retreat, sweeping aside all appeals of favor-seekers 
and proposition-makers. 

It was only a short step to two-fisted cynicism. We took the 
same attitude in the bungalow: No deal was right unless we got 
it on our terms. DeMille himself had adopted the policy years 
before. He had a knack for polite, adroit escape from his 

On the other hand, his own talent for pursuit was not incon- 

In the early 1920's he set out to buy Margaretta Tutfle's 

172 es, Mr. DeMille 

sensational novel, Feet of Clay. The post-bellum tale of the 
hero who lost half of a foot in battle was first published serially, 
and in book form quickly reached a sixth edition. 

Several parties were interested in the movie rights. The gos- 
sip indicated that substantial offers had been made, one re- 
portedly as high as $25,000, another $50,000. 

DeMille instructed a Paramount spokesman in New York to 
telephone Mrs. Turtle and offer $2,500, but not to divulge his 

The spokesman began by asking Mrs. Turtle what she would 
sell the movie rights for. 

"What will you give?" asked the author. 

"Twenty-five hundred dollars/' 

Her reply was typically feminine but irrefutable. <e Why 
should I accept $2,500 when I've already been offered $25,000?" 

The caller asked who had made such an offer and Mrs. 
Turtle replied that she could not say. It was a straight-forward 
reply; at that point the $25,000 offer had also been made by an 
agent for an undisclosed principal. 

The maneuver revealed two things to DeMille the highest 
offer and the possibility a matching offer would buy the movie 

The following morning DeMille's agent called again, this 
time offering $23,000. 

Mrs. Turtle again referred to the $25,000 bid. 

The caller said he would contact her again tomorrow. 

The third proposal was in combination $25,000 and Cecil B. 
DeMille. Mrs. Turtle gleefully accepted, recalling in later years 
that though she had never seen a DeMille movie up to that 
time she "did remember he had written the Peter Grimm story, 
which I admired extravagantly." 

Readers were beguiled by Mrs. Turtle's story-a hero with 
half a foot, and it was that feature that aroused Hollywood's 
interest. But DeMille felt there was not enough bounce in a 
loss of toes by shell bkst. His film version, with Rod LaRocque 


in the male lead, changed this item procedurally to reflect what 
has often been called "the DeMille touch/' A shark bites off 
the hero's toes! 

DeMille's sense of economy seemed to drive him unwillingly 
to little frugalities. These, when smilingly called to his attention 
by intimates, embarrassed him, and he would speak of the 
poverty of his boyhood and early marital years. He ordered his 
office to use the back of old scripts for scratch paper. He kept 
score on each razor blade, discarding it only when it had served 
him a required number of times. During a postwar drive for 
clothes for the needy of foreign countries Mr. DeMille, moved 
by their plight, instructed the family to choose an older suit or 
two, some shirts and socks. He owned a costly array of cash- 
mere suits, some a decade or two old but showing little sign of 
wear. A few of these older models, with other articles, were laid 
out on his bed for his approval, prior to shipment abroad. The 
boss eyed these selections, and returned diem to the closet 
The following day they were back on his bed, whereupon 
DeMille returned them again to his closet. The silent contest 
went on a few more days and finally the family, who had been 
through this sort of thing before, sent the shipment off without 
any contributions from the head of the house. When DeMille 
learned he had been left out he was furious, demanding to know 
why some of his things had not been included. 

Great skill was often reflected in his thrift. He had staged a 
march of British soldiers in his early version of The Buccaneer, 
holding up the episode as an inducement to the wise employ- 
ment of special effects. "You could see the line of British for 
five miles/' he said. "It was done with eight soldiers and six 

174 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

mirrors/' His contract with Paramount usually called for a 
percentage of a picture after his share of the production cost 
had been liquidated by income. Therefore, any expense or 
salary paid by Paramount to DeMille's staff was reflected in his 
ultimate share of the proceeds. This necessarily caused him to 
eye Paramount^ expenditures rather closely, particularly in 
areas where such expenditures had no direct or visible effect on 
the picture itself. He detested "hidden costs," but would author- 
ize any amount whatsoever that could be seen on the screen. 
Any other expenditure was a waste. 

He was faced one day with deciding how much "in-between 
salary" should be paid a staff member, a veteran of more than 
forty years of continuous service. It was Paramount^ policy to 
keep DeMifle's production assistants on the studio payroll 
between pictures, periods that often ran as long as two years. 
For this particular assistant Paramount suggested a weekly 
salary of $150, which would cut the assistant's regular stipend 
in half. DeMille said he saw no reason for that figure, reduced 
it to $100. The employee was a woman, an expert in her field, 
performing a task of which no one else in the DeMille organiza- 
tion was capable. She had devoted her professional life to the 
boss, yet his bizarre sense of equity, recoiling at anything other 
than what he deemed a fair consideration, compelled him to 
take an action that was in painful conflict with his sentiments, 

On another occasion, a battle of claims and counterclaims 
featured a negotiation over a contract between Mr. DeMille 
and the writer. We had committed ourselves to prepare a series 
of syndicated newspaper articles to appear weekly under the 
title, "Cecil DeMille Speaking." It was proposed by Miss 
Rosson that I should prepare a contract in letter form, setting 
forth what I felt the agreement should provide. 

In the first several drafts, I suggested that we should divide 
equally whatever proceeds were derived from my articles about 
Hs life. This did not strike him as equitable, proposing instead 


a 90/10 split. I then offered to perform the service without 
charge rather than accept so small a share. 

He rejected this as unthinkable, and agreed to the fifty-fifty 
arrangement. At this point, he called in Miss Rosson, whose ad- 
vice on day-to-day matters guided him almost entirely in later 
years. She felt that a clause should be added to cover kwsuits 
that might result from the articles. Acquiescing, the boss pen- 
ciled in a provision whereby my share of the proceeds would 
be used to satisfy legal judgments. Miss Rosson was openly 
critical of this unilateral approach, so finally it was agreed that, 
if we were sued, all proceeds from the articles would be put 
into a fund for settlement of court judgments. We left unan- 
swered the question as to who would pay the balance of judg- 
ments when the fund was exhausted. 

DeMille was indefatigable in his march toward conquest 
by contract, and would sacrifice a key actor if he felt he was 
being pushed. 

Unhappily, casting brought him into contact with agents. 
If such an estate were possible, DeMille would have assigned 
player agents to a category several degrees below the low 
esteem in which he held newspaper critics. He viewed them as 
cuckolds misrepresenting their clients for vulgar gain, a subject 
which the producer could discuss coolly only with difficulty. 

At one time he was considering a young English actress, 
Deborah Kerr, for a leading role in Unconquered. Though 
notably successful in her own country, Miss Kerr was new then 
to Hollywood, a factor that would seem to have an important 
bearing on the asking price. 

Much maneuvering for position preceded Mr. DeMille's first 
conference with Miss Kerr's agent. 

He suggested with more than an inference that the actress's 
career in America would be greatly accelerated by her appear- 
ance in a DeMille picture, perhaps even to the extent of stardom 

176 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

The agent nodded agreement. 

"Her name does not mean very much in America now," the 
boss purred, 

"Her price is still $4,000 a week, plus expenses, with a 
minimum of eighteen weeks/* the agent said. "That adds up to a 
minimum guarantee of $72,000, plus expenses." 

"Not worth it," shouted the boss. "She's trying to make money 
off of DeMille, and DeMille only wants her if he can make 
money off of her. Good day, sir." 

When the agent was gone, the boss recalled he had paid 
Gloria Swanson only $75 a week "and she was with me for 
years" and, ever mindful of the infirmity of front-office men- 
tality, added, "Then Paramount took her over for $3,000 a 

Another time a Ringling circus performer asked $500 for his 
stint in Greatest Show on Earth. We offered $200. This was 
rejected. We then offered $250, and stood firm. No deal was 
made* This brief encounter was typical of the outcome of 
negotiations that, unfortunately, began at a level reasonably 
near the performer's real worth. Were he alive to the boss's 
cut-the-price-in-half-and-argue-like-hell philosophy, he would 
have doubled his original offer, and settled at one half the 

Prior to the filming of the Samson script, DeMille ran across 
an old book called Judge and Fool, by a deceased Russian 
author, that unlocked for us one of the plot puzzles in the Bible 

DeMille authorized Paramount to offer the widow the sum 
of $750 for the right to use the story twist. No word of the 
progress of the negotiation reached the bungalow, so one after- 
noon the boss called Paramount^ New York office, which was 
handling the matter. 

"We bought Judge and FooZ/* the voice announced. 

"What did you pay for it?" asked DeMille. 

"Five thousand dollars, sir/* 


Livid with rage, DeMille unleashed a flow of invective, 
banged the receiver, then, panting like a chased fawn, sat 
quietly for several minutes until his composure returned, de- 
scribing this latest executive sortie as the product of a palsied 
nature. Later, however, he rose to the nobility of the trans- 
action, concluding that anything less than their gesture to the 
widow would have been gross cruelty. 

This sort of bustle and fuss reached out one day to envelop 
a piece of classic writing by James Fenimore Cooper an essay 
about the circus. DeMille wanted to use it in his voice-in-the- 
background introduction in the opening reel of the Greatest 
Show on Earth. 

Representatives of tie Cooper estate sent word it would 
allow use of the material, about two hundred words, upon pay- 
ment of $500. Mr. DeMille authorized a counter offer of $200, 
which was refused. 

One of the lines in the Cooper essay referred to the circus 
as "a driving, dogged, almost desperate thing.*' 

Rather than pay $500 for the entire excerpt Mr. DeMille 
decided he would use only that line. But Paramount attorneys 
advised that. use of the phrase alone would require payment 
of the full amount. 

"Well change the phrase/* declared DeMille, visualizing him- 
self in the throes of economic warfare. 

The attorneys agreed that if a word or two was substituted 
the phrase might be safely used without risking a law suit. 

The staff was then set to work thinking up synonyms for 
"dogged" and "desperate " We came up with quite a few- 
"tenacious," "unflinching," "frenzied," "indomitable." 

The phrase, shorn of Cooper originality, appeared in the 
script as "a driving, determined, almost frantic thing " 

"Now," chortled DeMille, let them sue on three words!" 


MR, DfiMILLE would not carry used currency, so 
secretaries made frequent visits to the bank to exchange 
wrinkled bills for crisp ones. His bulging wallet contained an- 
other item a small cardboard disc that was GOOD FOR 1 QUART 
OF MILK. It reminded him of the early days of privation, and 
those memories influenced his love of good things. His produc- 
tions were big, colorful, often gaudy. His clothes were not. 
There was subtle showmanship in his sartorial taste. He leaned 
toward soft colors, browns and grays, in his suits, hand-tailored 
to a meticulous fit. He loved the feel of cashmere but fine im- 
ported worsteds were also featured in his wardrobe. Even in 
this respect, he showed his distaste for waste; he did not have 
row on row of suits, as might be warrantably assumed. They 
were, however, in considerable number, some quite old but re- 
flecting the great care which the owner lavished upon his per- 
sonal things. 

He was inclined toward color ensembles with custom-made 
shirts of pastel hue and conservative four-in-hands. A modest 
display that escaped most observers were his ring-and-tie sets, 
the color of the tie always matching that of the semiprecious 
stone in the ring. 

For a time, a deaf-mute tended to Mr. DeMille s English- 
imported shoes. The service was performed in the boss's office 
and it appeared he found pleasure in chatting with the boy, 
always paying him handsomely. On one occasion the fee was 
accompanied by an autographed picture, on which he had 
written, The eyes are the windows of the soul. CECIL B. DE- 

His on-the-set attire in later years was casual, open-throat 


shirt and trousers, but considerably more showy in the early 
days. A local newspaper noted in 1923 that he wore "a green 
sport shirt with one of the world's five green diamonds to match, 
set in a ring of green gold/' 

During the remake of The Squaw Man a few years later he 
passed around gold-tipped cigarettes to reporters visiting the 
set. On that occasion he was "a symphony in brown chocolate- 
brown rough cloth with Norfolk jacket, soft shirt of jonquil 
yellow, tie of yellow and ruby floral design and cuff links and 
ring with ruby setting." The outfit alternated with shirt open 
at the throat, pants and puttees, Louis XV hat, drooping pipe 
and silver whistle, which gave way to the loudspeaker in 1924. 

He was unable to work in unattractive surroundings. The 
cluttered museunJike look of his office served to accent its air 
of casual wealth. When he opened his own studio in 1925 he 
took over Ince's personal suite, which resembled a small cathe- 
dral in one room and an old Spanish galleon in another. DeMille 
tore it all out, designed one large room from two, removing 
every vestige of Ince's kind of meaningless display. If display 
had meaning, it was admissible. There was hardly an item in 
his office that did not tell a story or yield a moral, and visitors 
were treated to the genealogy of each object as DeMille cere- 
moniously conducted office tours lasting for hours. 

His favorite transportation for years was an aged Locomobile, 
built for General Pershing. He paid $11,000 for it. His sprightly 
humor rose to the surface when reminiscing about this posses- 
sion. "After I bought it I took it to Don Lee, the Cadillac 
dealer, and told him I wanted another body for the car. He 
began to jump up and down like a chimpanzee released in its 
native jungle among a lot of bananas. He drew a sketch of his 
idea, a long, low car. It was the first chassis that gave him a 
chance to build a passenger car that was long and low. Im- 
mediately the Cadillac people took it up and started to use it. 
And that changed the whole pattern of cars." 

180 Jes> Mr. DeMilk 

Until recent years, when budgets forced him to keep longer 
hours, he considered it unthinkable that anyone would not dress 
for dinner. He traced it to the total decline of culture in Amer- 
ica, and the low estate of the spoken language. "The murder of 
the English language starts in the schools with the terrible 
abuse of daily speech. We have completely stopped speaking 
the pure language. Use of a broad English or similar accent is 
not a sign of culture. It is merely a coating of polish. On my 
yacht I always dressed for dinner every night, even though I 
was alone. It gave one a feeling of self-respect, of culture. If 
we forget all the niceties of life we revert to a lower civilization 

DeMille was frequently interviewed by beauty and fashion 
editors, who found his observations in these fields extremely 
printable. He told one editor that his ideal actress was "a blonde 
with a brunette soul." To another he commented, "A well-cut 
negligee can make a woman look as stunning as a man does in 
a polo coat." 

He had a nightmarish memory of a conversation with an 
aspiring actress. "She was the most beautiful woman I had ever 
met, and when I asked what experience she had as an actress 
she replied, ^Whatever I have did I have did good/ " 

He once told Paulette Goddard, "Never go across the alley 
even to dump garbage unless you are dressed to the teeth." 

A woman's page editor who titled her article "Venus de 
Mille ' quoted him as saying, "To me little signs of personal 
habits of life are more important than pure physical beauty. 
If I found that the greatest beauty in the world habitually let 
her shoes run down at the heel and failed to adjust her petti- 
coat to the proper length on all sides, I would be doubtful about 
employing her. Because slovenly habits usually betoken slovenly 

He was inclined at times to pooh-pooh what he called "ravish- 


ing beauty/' Some women are "delightful to look upon but, 
well, don't make very much of an impression. On the other 
hand we see a girl come along whose nose tips up, whose mouth 
is too large and in a moment she is surrounded by admirers. 
What is the reason? Charm. She has warmth and vibrance of 
personality. People look at a cool, statuesque beauty much as 
they would admire the statue of Venus; but they love the girl 
of vivid interest, sparkling eyes and instant emotional reactions," 

He contended that most of the so-called beauties in Holly- 
wood look alike. 

"It's mass production. They all have the same hairdress, the 
same make-up. They don't look alike when they arrive here, 
but Hollywood pours them into a mold and stamps them like 

He saw a beauty-isn't-everything parallel between choosing 
a wife and casting an actress. "You bring home a round-eyed, 
vapid little creature, and when the first ecstasy of marital bliss 
is over you wonder why she doesn't say something. You look 
for a sign of intelligence and none is forthcoming. You walk 
into the clear cold night air and you say to yourself, "What have 
I gotten myself into? Maybe Mama was right!' Pictures today 
demand more than a pretty face, but I am afraid too many film- 
goers choose beauty instead of brains. They choose a rounded 
figure that can't enunciate a line and reject a flat chest capable 
of a brilliant performance." 

He said he chose leading women who had the ability to 
create the illusion of beauty. "Sarah Bemhardt and Duse axe 
examples of what I mean by this. Neither was a beauty. Bern- 
hardt, all her life, was scrawny, and her features were anything 
but classic. But to the day of her death a poor, crippled old 
woman with a wooden leg and with her wrinkled face rouged 
and powdered she could come on the stage and by the alchemy 
of her talent and charm produce the illusion of a young and 
beautiful Camille. This power is far more precious than real 

182 Yes, Mr, DeMilk 

beauty. Beauty is one of the cheapest things on the market 
today. It is so cheap that it has little value, The sidewalks of 
Hollywood, the classrooms, the restaurants, are full of beauti- 
ful girls. My objections to beauties as leading women are briefly 
summed up. They are too posey, too stilted, too unwilling to 
reflect emotion and thus ruffle the beautiful calm of their 
classic features. This may be conscious or unconscious, but it is 
always there in a really beautiful woman. She inclines to drape 
herself in classic poses. She moves with lack of fire, she is aloof 
from emotion. Spoiled by life, she does not feel the urge to 
improve herself, to be pleasing, to exhibit feeling. There is 
always someone who tells these beauties in their infancy that 
worry and emotion destroy the fine fabric of beauty. They never 
forget this, and this ruins them as actresses." 

It was a rather drastic admission for one who had put such 
store by beauty. 

A few years ago, when asked to give his definition of per- 
sonality, he drew back with feigned alarm, retorted, "Am I 
supposed to isolate and hold up to view the spark which once 
in a lifetime kindles and enflames the soul of some mortal?" 

One day he related the circumstances that led him to some of 
his early leading players. 

"Bebe Daniels came to my notice in a 2-reel Harold Lloyd 
comedy and after seeing her fall off a roller coaster in one of 
them 3 1 decided she was just the person to be introduced to the 
public as a siren of ancient Babylon in Male and Female. Bebe s 
mother brought her around to see me. The girl had stooped 
shoulders and walked like a duck. I felt she could act. Acting 
came natural to her, but I almost lost my mind teaching her to 
stand up straight. After weeks of working with her I let her 
remain on the screen for only 150 feet, but upon that* brief ap- 
pearance she built an important career. In the days when Bebe, 
Gloria Swanson, Wallace Reid and the rest were being pkced 


before the world with echo-ringing ballyhoo, it seemed that 
they were some sort of superhumans, that they had been care- 
fully nurtured in luxury and suckled by art. Not so. Wally Reid 
was just what we call a 'young punF when he was being given 
all that fanfare. I had seen him do that fight as the blacksmith 
in The Birth of a Nation for D. W. Griffith, and had put him 
under contract for $75 a week. He was wooden and for many 
pictures had to be led around by the hand. A failing studio 
asked us to take Agnes Ayres off its hands. We found her 
beautiful, but the victim of depressing mannerisms which were 
soon eradicated. 

"Leatrice Joy was so frightened by the realization that her 
chance had come that it was difficult to get any response at all 
from her. She was shut right up inside of a shell and could not 
let herself go. We had a terrible time, and finally decided that 
the only way to handle her was with a club. We knew we had 
to smash that reserve, that shell, that tightness with which she 
was holding herself; otherwise, she would never get anywhere 
on the screen. So I started out on my campaign with her. It 
almost killed both of us. I scolded and stormed and did my best 
to break down that shell, but she seemed to shrivel up all the 
more. We went through two weeks of the most terrible agony 
for her and for myself. One night, after we had wozked very 
late, I brought Leatrice and her brother into my office. Leatrice 
was all upset, thinking I was going to discharge her. I realized 
that she thought this, so I decided to tell her I was going to fire 
her. I told her she had not made good, and that although we 
were two weeks on the picture, I could not go on with her. 

"She went all to pieces, and wept all over the chair, all over 
her brother and all over me. I let her go on. She thought she 
was through and she wept her heart out, saying that I had 
ruined her life by taking this from her, and that her heart was 
broken. Right at the height of this, when she was in the middle 
of the floor, broken and crumpled up, I stopped her and asked 

184 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

her to look at herself, at her position, to note how her hands 
were clutching, and the position in which her head had fallen, 
and the condition she had gotten into through letting herself go 
and breaking through that shell in which she had been living. 
I told her not to move, but to think, and soon she realized that 
the fear was gone, and she said, 1 know what you mean/ After 
that she had an easy road to stardom." 


A LARGE population of extra and "bit" pkyers mi- 
grated from one DeMille picture to another and we were be- 
sieged daily by appeals from actors hungering for a "DeMille 
credit." Old-timers, particularly, knew from experience that a 
DeMille part was not something easily come by. The reward 
often went to the actor with the greatest zeal and ingenuity. 
Mr. DeMille usually treated petitioners kindly, and on occasion 
would hire a player for the witty manner in which his attention 
was courted. 

For this reason the older and wiser employed a special ap- 
proach. They would maintain a luncheon-hour watch at the 
lot entrance next to the bungalow. At a pre-arranged signal, 
often from a staff member, they would hurry to DeMille's side 
as the producer emerged from the bungalow followed by his 
retinue of assistants. DeMille always walked briskly to the 
studio cafe a few yards away, so it behooved the job-seeker to 
be fleet of foot, speed to DeMille's side and quickly blurt out 
the supplication, which was always most carefully rehearsed. 
Probably the most historic of such entreaties was uttered by a 
middle-aged woman who, with a Paramount guard bearing 
down upon her, cried, "Mr. DeMille, you probably don't re- 


member me but I was a harlot in your Golden Bed" Through 
the years two and sometimes three generations of the same 
family appeared in his pictures. One energetic mother hurled 
her proudest lineal boast, in the effort to get herself and son 
engaged as extras: "Sir, you killed my four-year-old Bobby in 
The Sign of the Cross and he's a married man now!" Persons 
thus woven into the past were given preference and their names 
were added to a roster of "DeMille alumni" 

Paulette Goddard proved herself most resourceful while 
angling for the part of Louvette, a sexy half-breed in Northwest 
Mounted Police" 

It was a big part and DeMille was keeping pretty quiet 
about it 

Paulette tried telephone calls, chatty notes and occasional 
visits to the DeMille luncheon table, then hit upon something 

She knew about DeMille's weakness for petite feet. 

Intimates are quick to proclaim that Miss Goddard's feet are 
shapely, though perhaps not as small as Gloria Swanson's, 
whose window-display size 23 AA was a Paramount boast for 

One day Paulette appeared in an inner door leading to De- 
Mille's office, dressed in a sparse costume, her reddish hair 
falling carelessly over shoulders gleaming .with walnut dye 
and feet connivingly bare. Altogether she presented a most 
pleasurable picture, walking into DeMille's office with a slow, 
primitive gait that proved to be effective, though hardly in- 
digenous to the North country. She struck an artful pose on the 
couch in front of his desk, and announced, "I am Louvette," 
then quoted a line from the script: "You lyin* Scotch Indian! 
Son-uma-gun! I t'ink I keel you!" 

DeMille liked what he saw and gave her the part. 

Paulette confessed she was fascinated by the complex ma- 
chinery of a DeMille movie, but even more by what it could do 
for her career. "Every actress wanted to get into a DeMille 

186 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

picture. Just one could keep your name in front of the public 
for years." 

Paulette played a bond slave in Unconquered and brooded all 
through it. There were virtually no moments of finery or ro- 
mance such as actresses cherish. Moreover, as the heroine of 
the piece she was a bit weary of being pushed around by an 
assortment of frontier roughnecks. White traitors and painted 
Indians alternated taking her into custody, and with each 
seizure fresh violence broke out with Paulette in the center. 
In the "torture stake" scene DeMille had three Seneca braves 
lunging at Paulette with heated spears. Always a good trouper, 
she rehearsed the scene for hours, memorizing the movements 
of the "braves" as they thrust the (real) smoking spear tips 
within inches of her face. 

DeMille had prepared for the climax, the siege of the Fort, 
with his usual gusto. Arrows and fireballs were dipped in 
kerosene, ignited and tossed into the Fort yard by means of 
makeshift catapults. The crew called them "DeMille cock- 
tails/* Before the day was over, several players had suffered 
burns, the worst by a drummer boy. This lad, apparently in- 
spired by the martial atmosphere, did not finch when one of the 
fireballs landed on his hands as he was beating a call to action. 
DeMille later handed him a Walter Raleigh anniversary half- 
dollar, his customary token for performances "beyond the call 
for duty." 

There were no rehearsals of the massive episode. The players 
themselves were unaware of the number or kind of fiery ord- 
nance that was to fly into the enclosure from the outside. 
DeMille's instructions to the cast were that no matter what 
happened they were to react as they would in real life. The 
result was graphic. Two women, their long skirts ignited, 
screamed and jigged as they brushed the sparks, and there was 
much dodging of the fiery pellets. 

Paulette's place in the scene was at the busMess end of a 
bucket brigade composed entirely of women. She was to take 


a position atop a ladder and pour water on a structure ignited 
by one of the fireballs. The siege was reaching a high pilch 
of volume and fury when a discovery of quite serious import 
was called to DeMille's attention: There was no heroine. 
Paulette, taking one look at the proceedings, had walked off the 
picture. From her dressing room she sent word to the effect 
that, love him though she did, DeMille was canying his siege 
too far. The producer, white with indignation, stormed up and 
down the set and finally ordered a double to take Paulette's 
place. It meant a long shot instead of a close-up; the double 
suffered slight hand burns. It was a galling substitution that 
deprived him of the opportunity to demonstrate to the world 
once more how in a DeMille picture the stars also take the risks. 
Paulette frequently made it known she held no grudge against 
DeMille for asking her to risk her life. A few years later she 
began another series of overtures, this time aimed at getting 
one of the top spots in The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille 
was preparing for the picture in the spring of 1950 and hap- 
pened to be at a Ringling circus performance at Madison Square 
Garden. Paulette was there too, and joined DeMille in his box. 
A few days later she wrote him: 


I'm sorry I missed saying goodbye to you after my thrilling 
evening with you at the circus. 

I do hope and pray that I get "The Part 9 * in your coming 
film. I will be a good, good girl! 

In the meantime I shall be working hard in summer stock. 


P.S. You can get me from Paramount I have pretty feet, too. 

Love, P.G. 

To this, DeMille replied by letter: 

Indeed your feet are beautiful. What bothers me is that those 
same lovely 'feet might be tempted to walk off the set a second 

188 Jes> Mr. DeMitte 

"No one/' he commented later, "ever walked off a DeMille 
set and came back/* 

Though Paulette failed to land a part in The Greatest Show 
on Earth, others were busy with little stratagems calculated 
to shatter DeMille's careful defenses. One of the more spirited 
competitors for a key spot in the circus picture, Betty Hutton 
sent over an elaborate floral creation in circus motif, festooned 
with hundreds of expensive blooms. Its centerpiece was a 
china doll swinging from a trapeze, the part Betty was after. 

A note with it read: 

My career is in your hands! IVe never been so happy in my 
life at the thought of working with the greatest of them all 
C. B. DeMille. 


BETTY (can do anything 
will travel) HUTTON 

We were set to work devising a reply to all this, and from 
several samples DeMille selected one with a lighter touch: 

Tournament of Roses was never like this. Definitely favor your 
directing as well as playing in the picture and urge you to con- 
sider me for role of elephant boy. You are marvelous. What 
other man in the world can tell his grandchildren that Betty 
Hutton once sent him a bouquet of nineteen orchids, seven 
hundred fifty Esther Reed daisies, two thousand stock blossoms, 
two dozen garnet roses and three dozen Lillies of the Nile. My 
heart belongs to Annie with or without a gun. 


(His mention of Annie was in reference to the title role 
played by Betty in Annie Get Your Gun.) 


DeMille had called in Gloria Grahame to discuss the ele- 
phant-girl part. He had to have an understanding with her 
because the part involved what the Ringling people call a 
"foot-on-face" act an elephant lowers a foot close enough to 
the performer's face to smudge the tip of her nose. A few days 
later DeMille received a second floral piece, arranged about an 
elephant with foot resting on the face of a circus figurine. 
DeMille commented on the ingenuity of the sender and told 
his publicity man, "Even if I didn't know who sent it I would 
give her the part." 

A similar but smaller gift arrived a few days kter. It was 
from Dorothy Lamour, with the note: 


Sorry that this "elephant girl" cannot offer a larger floral 
display to bring herself to your attention. However, I feel sure 
I can do the part well if you will just give me some considera- 
tion! This would make two of my lifetime dreams come true 
First to do a picture for "the greatest master on earth* 
Secondly, a part that I know I can do well enough to make him 
proud of me! 

If you agree, even slightly, I will make myself available to 
tell you in person how easy I can make the entire thing for you. 
With greatest anticipation and love- 

Four days kter DeMille sent a noncommittal reply: 


Whereupon the following from Miss Lamour: 


Words can never express what your wonderful telegram meant 
to me. It has given me a "slight ray of hope* that you might be 
giving me, at least, some small consideration as your "Elephant 
Girl* I would still love to have that visit with you at your con- 
veniencewhether it will be to talk business or just talk. 

190 es, Mr. DeMille 

You see, C.B., I appreciate culture and gentlemen. Your tele- 
gram proved to me that you are truly one of the few top gentle- 
men left in our industry. 

Again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart! 


The leads in the picture went to the three actresses, war- 
ranting no inference, however, that merely flowers had turned 
the trick. DeMille had exercised rare judgment in the casting. 
Both Betty and Gloria performed the risky feats without bene- 
fit of doubles, a matter that DeMille had left to their own 

One afternoon, Lucille Ball called upon the boss with the 
hope of getting the role of the Elephant Girl in the circus story, 
at the time not yet cast. She had never played in one of his films 
and the occasion was marked by unusual eagerness on her part. 
Moreover, as it was prior to the redheaded comedienne's rise 
in television, she concededly was in need of picture work. 

Mr. DeMille assured her the part, and the actress figuratively 
floated out of the office. 

A few weeks later she returned, tears in her eyes. 

She told DeMille she had to give it up. 

They were expecting a child, their first, and the doctor felt 
that the activities of a circus elephant girl might be too taxing 
for impending motherhood. Ecstatic over her first-born, Lucille 
was nevertheless properly tearful in DeMille's presence. She 
sincerely regretted losing the opportunity. 

With this viewpoint DeMille heartily concurred but was 
nonetheless piqued by the caprice of fate. He said to the staff, 
"You can have a baby anytime but how often in your life do you 
get a lead in a DeMille picture?" 

Part V 



HE was the custodian of a language of drama cut to 
his style, and viewed with suspicion those who advised a 
change. There was little reason for change when his own 
f ormula had proved so consistently fruitful "Never meddle with 
a success/* he counseled his staff. What amazed observers was 
not that the language was simple as that it was so little tinder- 
stood or imitated. DeMille's drama was not meant for, as he 
frequently put it, "the New Yorker magazine crowd." It did 
what it was supposed to do; it sold pictures on a mass basis, and 
in the mass market he found his strength. 

He guarded the f onnula jealously and allowed no writer to 
veer from it. 

He once thought he might develop scenarists with minds 
attuned to his style. He gathered together a dozen young women 
writers, mostly from newspapers throughout the country, paid 
them a small salary as they sat on the sets observing him at 
work. For months he watched for a creative spark, and for 
months they sat and whispered to each other. They became 
known around the studio as the whispering chorus, the mere 
mention of DeMille's name causing them to exclaim what a 
grand fellow he was. Eventually he had to let them go. His 
passion for simplicity of plot was the despair of the staff. Once, 
during an impasse in the writing of the Unconquered story, an 
aide thought he had an idea on how to move the plot forward. 

"Look at it this way," the aide said; "her life can be elevated 
at this point." 


194 fes, Mr. DeMille 


"By sublimation * But he proceeded no further. 

"Sublimation! My god, what's that?" DeMille cried. "A cure 
for pregnant women with falling breasts? Now I go up to a 
newsboy. You know I rely on newsboys too for the success of 
my pictures, and I say to him, you ought to see that DeMille 
picture up the street, it's all about sublimation. Boy, it's great, 
all about sublimation. Can't you see him dropping his papers 
and tailing it up the street!" 

The chemistry of DeMille plots can be summed up in Ham- 
let's remark to his old pal Horatio, "Give me that man who is 
not passion's slave." Time and again disaster visited DeMille's 
heroes because they were sorely afflicted with this basic urge. 
(Gary Cooper deserted his military post to chase after Paulette 
Goddard in Unconquered and Victor Mature as Samson fell 
prey to a daughter of his enemies, the sex-laden Delilah of 
Hedy Lamarr, betraying his own people in the bargain. 

Actually, DeMille did not come into his, as his brother Bill 
once called it, "sex a la mode era" until after World War I. 
There was a hint of its coming in The Cheat in which a wealthy 
Oriental brands a white girl for refusing to keep her promise 
to become his mistress. The relationship of male and female 
became a possessive feature of the DeMille scenario. There 
was nothing psychological, or complex, or depressing about it, 
a simple Freudian concept pointing up what DeMille agreed 
was the big driving force in man's nature. He contended many 
"otherwise normal people take an unreasonable and irrational 
attitude on the subject of sex." He recognized this force as some- 
thing which is "to human beings what a piece of magnetized 
steel is to isolated pieces of iron." In 1930, in a magazine reply 
to a critic who asserted sex was through as a subject for films, 
DeMille counted off the current successful films. Four out of 
five were sexy. "One thousand years from now the situation will 
be the same/' DeMille wrote. "I recall experiments in which 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 195 

scientists expect to produce babies in test tubes Perhaps 

if we had to say 'Mother to a gkss bottle the enjoyment of the 
world in love stories would pass." In that year he told a Cleve- 
land newspaperman that three things were necessary to a 
woman's happiness "art, religion and a man.*' Though he was 
unaffected by appeals to art, his pictures embodied the other 
two requirements, leaving little doubt that most of DeMille's 
heroines were at least two-thirds content. 

Some nifty catchlines were used in this rakish period. Adver- 
tisements for DeMille's Adam's Rib in 1922 contained such 
come-ons as ft is easier for a man to say he will stop loving a 
woman than to stop loving her; The dangerous age for women 
is from three to seventy; The flapper has a weapon her mother 
hasn'tYouth, Mothers is experience; A tak of the youngest 
flapper and the oldest sin. Wives were urged to see Dont 
Change Jour Husband in 1918 to find out how to resist seducers 
who "promise you chests of smouldering rubies and shimmering 
silks as soft as your own brown curls.** 

DeMille visualized his stories in terms of whatever had the 
greatest appeal to the greatest number. The sex excitant, a still 
highly marketable commodity > fit both counts of DeMille's 
formula: it was common to everyone and it was strong. 

While others allowed cheapness to creep in, DeMille tried 
to maintain a balance, enough of allure and not too much of 
boldness, but not successfully. He did not escape the critics, a 
great many feeling they knew what DeMille was up to. One day 
in 1950 he was telling Hedda Hopper how fortunate he was 
that fate had allowed him to bring so many Biblical pictures to 
the screen, and thus send the Holy Word to remote corners 
of the world. "Now, just a minute, C.B.," exclaimed the peppery 
correspondent, not the least reticent of women. "You're talking 
to Hedda now. Those Bible pictures of yours had plenty of sex!" 

In his review of Why Change Your Wife, Burns Mantle 

196 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

acknowledged the producer s superiority in this field. "The 
Sennetts and the Sunshine boys may outdo Mr. DeMille as 
masters of the lower limb display/* Mantle wrote, "but he com- 
pletely outdistances them in the technique of the torso." 

DeMille faced a wall of opposition from his own studio asso- 
ciates when he first brought up his idea for an epic story about 
Samson and Delilah. The project would cost at least three mil- 
lion dollars. Their minds were baffled "A pretty expensive hair- 
cut/* they said. Most of the great masters, particularly Dore, 
painted Delilah as a chubby, matronish female and Samson as 
a thick, hairy giant of a man in the twilight of fifty. 

Probably the executives were thinking of Dore conceptions. 
DeMille was not. 

He set an artist to work painting a sketch, and one day 
whipped it out before the executives, cackling, "How do you 
think a movie about two people like that would sell?" 

Their eyes fell on a young man with slim hips and the chest 
of an aU-American fullback, with a scantily clad temptress look- 
ing saucily over her shoulder at the Biblical strong man. 

The wet-lipped executives nodded approvingly at this up-to- 
the-minute rendition of Samson and Delilah. 

DeMille pinned the color sketch on his office walls. On the 
back was the notation, "This sketch sold Paramount on making 
Samson and Delilah." He frequently referred visitors to it as an 
example of how to combat the lack of imagination in Holly- 

There was exceptional vigor in pictures he conjured up in 
his own mind. At a luncheon of his staff a few years ago he 
gave this description of the incident in the Garden of Eden: 
"There was a man named Adam who looked like Errol Flynn 
and this Adam was lonely. So he complained and God did some- 
thing to the man's side. Lo and behold there was a lovely thing 
lying on a pallet of straw." 

Constantly battling what he felt was a paucity of imagination 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 197 

in the contemporary world, he advanced upon James Barriers 
The Admirable Crichton, turning the old classic of the heiress 
who gravitated to the butler into a highly successful movie ( the 
first of his pictures to reach a million-dollar gross). It was not 
done as The Admirable Crichton. That title disturbed DeMille; 
it lacked color and could be confusing. "People might think it's 
a story about a naval officer." He changed it to Mate and 
Female, thus removing every possible inference of anything 

The "sex-a-la-mode" period was set off by such sparkling 
accessories as vaporish lingerie, luxurious baths and fantastic 
boudoirs. "He could make a screen version of Uncle Toms 
Cabin and yet manage to edge in a boudoir and a bath," the 
New York City Mirror chuckled editorially in 1925. 

In decking out his actresses suitably, DeMille felt that much 
was to be said for feminine charm that was not unduly con- 
cealed. "Cassocks are for altar boys, who have nothing engag- 
ing to exhibit, but not for women.'* Like the Brothers Minsky, 
DeMille rarely permitted his heroines to suffer from too much 
coverage. A favorite outfit was the bra and skirt, often got up 
with an artistry that made the costume seem appropriate for 
other than bathing. 

DeMille's conscience as a historian may have hurt a little 
when he suited Hedy Lamarr as Delilah in a bra, then vigor- 
ously backing it up as an accepted item of apparel in Old 
Testament times. 

He was not alone among producers of the midge's to recog- 
nize the power of the barren midriff, a development logically 
brought on by Mack Sennett's bathing girls, who ably demon- 
strated its box-office value. Producers vied with one another in 
out-exposing their heroines; it soon was not enough to show 
them merely bathing, Claudette Colbert was bathing in a 

198 yes, Mr, DeMilk 

stream in the jungle scenes of Four Frightened People when 
a sportive monkey stole her clothes off a hickory limb, giving 
DeMille a chance to prove the effectiveness of tropical leaves as 
clothes in this type of emergency. In the play The Admirable 
Crichton the author, Sir James Barrie, has the butler Crichton 
(Thomas Meighan) indulging himself wistfully with regard to 
Lady Mary (Miss Swanson): 

Or ever the knightly years were gone 
With the old world to the grave, 
I was a king in Babylon, 
And you were a Christian slave. 

Sir James saw no reason to carry out this wish, but DeMille 
felt differently. He turned to Babylonian days in a lavish flash- 
back featuring Miss Swanson sparingly clad in leopard skin. 

Thus the flashback was a handy device when the story itself 
did not give producers an opportunity to unfurl the heroine. 
In Manslaughter the district attorney, prosecuting the girl he 
loves, points to the wild youth of his day and observes that it 
was just this sort of thing that made Rome fall. And presto! 
The DeMille plot goes whirling right into the middle of a 
Roman orgy with Leatrice Joy, temporarily absolved from a 
charge of manslaughter. She is the hostess at this ancient jazz 
party, sensuous enough to have hastened Rome's fall by a score 
of years. In the script itself, notes for the flashback ran for six 
pages, revealing DeMille's thoroughness in screen revelries of 
this kind: 

Steps lead up to the throne on which sits a Roman patri- 
cian This patrician is Lydia (Leatrice Joy) in magnifi- 
cent Roman costume. Below, her guests are at a long table, 
feasting. Wine is being passed by black nude slaves. Bac- 
chanalian dancers are circling in front of the table (hung 
with garlands of roses) At top of throne, held by a 
heavy golden chain, is a tiger, guarding the patrician noble- 
woman Part of this wild Bacchanal consists of several 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 199 

of the men picking up the girls above their heads, and run- 
ning off with them Several young nobles (very drunk) 

grab pretty dancers, pulling them down into their laps, 
bend them back, giving them wine, etc. One man a soldier 
among the rest of the patricians-fills his Roman helmet 
with wine, and gives it to woman next to him, whom he is 

caressing The guests at the feast are leaning forward 

eagerly watching the Chief Dancer, whose long scarf has 
almost unwound. The last of it drops from her, as she 
reaches the throne, entirely nude. (Very beautiful, though 
very small figure.} Kneeling, she offers winecup to patrician 
woman, who graciously takes it. 

DeMille heroines were not women of half-formed purpose. 
Their influence was in no way local If vain, it generally de- 
veloped that a nation's fate hung on their vanity. DeMille felt 
he had perfected such a female in Delilah. Few storied sirens 
exerted such a hold on the showman's imagination as the harlot 
of Gaza. It appeared Delilah was just about the perfect vamp. 
She was beautiful and sexy, she knew the power of the com- 
bination, and how to use it That made her dangerous. 

With Delilah, DeMille utilized an old maxim, "Every man 
hurts the thing he loves," but reversed it, and carried it further. 
In his story, Delilah destroys her lover, himself a lad of some 
strength. She thus eliminates a Jewish hero who has been a 
stumbling block to Philistine supremacy, a solution satisfactory 
to DeMille if not to Bible scholars. 

In the climate of a DeMille plot, betrayal played against 
lust, greed against human flesh. The hardest wallops were de- 
livered by silken ladies with powdered cheeks and ruby lips. 
When a blushing youth was pitted against a full-blown DeMille 
female, there could be little doubt which one was in for a fear- 
ful shellacking. As individuals, DeMille heroines would hardly 
be suitable for a Sunday school cantata, but it is easy to see how 
an organized group of them would add up into quite a strik- 
ing force. With soft touches (they always appeared eminently 

200 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

feminine) they subdued the toughest male, it being evident 
such gals were not to be approached on tiptoe. 

Moving boldly on the sex front, exposing the feminine calf 
when the sight of an ankle was considered an orgy, DeMille 
was drawn to the bathing scene as a reliable piece of glamour. 
Even though in later years he feigned a horror for the showy 
exercises, Hollywood wags declared his trademark to be a bath- 
tub and a halo. To a critic who chided him for his espousal of 
the tub, DeMille replied, "I am proud of it. My mind is not one 
that grasps the immorality of the bathroom." He began to re- 
sent such tags as "the patron saint of plumbers," "the plumber's 
best friend," and smiled patiently when a plumbing firm dis- 
played a tub with a poster describing its design as EARLY 

As the father of big-time bathing on the screen, DeMille 
did not, however, hesitate to take credit for popularizing the 
Saturday-night rite. "I cannot say whether more people have 
been in DeMille bathtubs than in the Yale Bowl, but at least 
more celebrated persons have been seen in them under more 
interesting circumstances." His boudoir tour de force was per- 
suading Claudette Colbert to take a bath in a black marble 
pool filled with asses' milk in The Sign of the Cross. His enthusi- 
asm on that occasion cost the studio $10,000. 

Back in 1929 he prepared a glass bathtub for Dynamite, his 
first sound movie, but he could not talk the heroine, Kay John- 
son, into doing what might have been one of the more pro- 
vocative sessions of screen bathing in film history. "It would 
have made any seat in the house a good one," The New Yorfc 
Times said, recalling the episode a few years ago. 

His bathtub scenes are always surrounded with a lot of 
secret business. The sets are locked and guarded, and hands 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 201 

become very secretive, pretend to be looking for spies of rival 
producers seeking to unlock an important trade secret. 

DeMille's first important use of the tub was in an unrefined 
soiree called, Old Wives for New, in which he hit upon the 
idea of having Sylvia Ashton leave hairpins and all sorts of 
debris around the place, while Florence Victor's bathroom was as 
bright and neat as a Tiffany showcase. The moral for American 
womanhood was clear: a slovenly wife can wreck a marriage. 

Then he revealed Gloria Swanson to the public in Mde and 
Femak in 1919. She was in a sunken bathtub, the Model-T of 
its day. "We thought that was pretty hot stuff.'* DeMille smiled 
reminiscently. "From that I went on to Saturday Night, then to 
Why Change Jour Husband? and Dont Change Jour Wife" 
These were DeMille's marital-mixup movies, and all had bath- 
ing scenes piquant sauces that caused talk. And talk sold 

He traced his affection for the pretty bath to childhood 
memories of a dingy bodike tub into which he was dunked 
every Saturday night. "The cockroaches used to come out, look 
at you and say, Hi, boy,* and go back." He resolved, should he 
ever have the chance, to restore bathing to its proper estate. 
Even fate had a hand in this legend. The DeMilles became 
engaged in December, 1899. "We were watching tie new cen- 
tury come in, sitting on the steps of No, 9 Beacon Street in 
Boston, It was one of those old houses with colored panes of 
glass. For sentimental reasons we decided to visit the spot 
many years later, and what do you think we saw? It was occu- 
pied by a plumbing company and in the window was a huge 

As a young actress at Paramount, Claudette Colbert played 
only "sweet young thing" roles. One day DeMille saw her on 

202 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

the studio grounds. He had been searching for someone to 
portray the wicked and beautiful empress, Poppaea. 

He went up to her and without preliminary, said, 'To me 
you are the wickedest woman in the world." 

It was unusual even as Hollywood introductions go. Already 
he envisioned her in the silks, jewels and sultry dalliance of 
Nero's wife. Drastically transformed, Claudette turned out to 
be an eyeful as Poppaea, and gave DeMille an opportunity to 
show how wrong Paramount was in putting a sweetness-and- 
light label on the actress. 

DeMille labored hard on the feminine characters in his plots 
"Feminine allure is a ruthless tool that has changed the course 
of civilizations/* 

There were times when these predatory females sorely tried 
him- He once set about to find a symbol of all women, some- 
thing that would typify female power. He asked around and 
one day came upon what he felt was the answer: the snake. A 
woman's allure can be as deadly as a snake, plaguing the male 
in its glistening coils. 

After that, snake symbols were everywhere on DeMille sets. 
Some were cast in bronze as ornaments, pot holders, cane grips, 
often placed close to the heroine, on her person, or as part of 
her furnishings. In speech, too "forked-tongue adder" was the 
phrase he used to describe Delilah. 

The Cleopatra of history took her own life in a classic fashion, 
so far as DeMille was concerned. She may not have had the 
producer in -mind when she committed suicide by clasping an 
asp to her breast, but a knowledge of his philosophy might 
have made the act a little more pleasant for her. 

When he decided to film her story, DeMille mulled for some 
time over how to persuade Claudette Colbert to do the death 
scene with a live snake. DeMille was opposed to stuffed sub- 
stitutes as strongly as most women detest the live ones. 

At the first suggestion she might be expected to handle the 
real article, Miss Colbert shuddered. 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 203 

"Oh, Mr. DeMille, I couldn't touch a snake." 

DeMifle had not yet given her the part, but he told her that 
if she stood firm on that decision he would have to seek another 

"Don't say you will or wonV he suggested. "It will be the 
last scene in the picture, and let's leave the whole problem to 
that time/' 

The death scene, ready for the camera, found Claudette, a 
magnificently gowned Cleopatra, seated on a bkck onyx throne 
from which stretched a red marble runner, making the journey 
to the dais a long and dramatic one. The cameraman had ad- 
justed lens, awaiting the call for action, when the actress saw 
DeMille approach her from the far end of the marble strip. He 
was moving, slowly, step by step, and pointing in her direction 
a huge snake. She blinked, but she was not mistakenit was 
a Mexican boa constrictor, eight feet long, its head lying on 
the palm of DeMille's outstretched hand. 

"Mr. DeMiller screamed the actress. 

"Yes," he said, stepping toward the dais. 

"Don't! Don't come near me with that thing!" 

Quickly DeMille's other hand, up to this point hidden behind 
him, flashed out at the actress. In it he held a small harmless 
snake a few inches long, resembling a sand adder. 

"How about this one?" 

"Oh, that little thing," she said, almost a sigh of relief, and 
in a few -minutes the death scene was filmed. 

In 1922 in FooTs Paradise, Julia Faye played the Queen of 
Siam (Tve played five queens for DeMiEe!") with two bkck 
snakes coiled around her arms. "We were working at Balboa at 
night. I was miserable because of the cold and petrified be- 
cause of the snakes. I was holding the heads of the snakes in 
my hands and what part of them wasn't wrapped around me 
trailed to the ground. They were that long. After a while I felt 
a pressure. I ran to DeMille screaming, "They're squeezing me! 

204 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

They're squeezing me!' With the air of a mother scolding a 
petulant child he said, "Look at the way you're holding them. 
Just relax your grip and they'll be all right/ I did, and they 

DeMille treated his lady players with an almost fatherly 
patience, once having impressed upon them a few ground rules. 
He was extraordinarily indulgent Those who reported some 
anxiety over a line of dialogue, perhaps suggesting a change, 
would receive a grateful hearing, often with a word of advice, 
such as, "Speak the line which seems the most natural. Writers, 
you know, don't often realize how people are supposed to talk." 

While he obliged with small concessions, no amount of weep- 
ing on his shoulder could prevail on him to permit basic changes 
in a portrayal. He saw to it they were amply forewarned. 

If there was one tenacious precept in the DeMille operation 
it was that no leading player was hired without benefit of a 
ceremony in the boss's office. DeMille did not cast a part cas- 
ually, either as to person or price. 

Agents were morbidly aware that they always faced the same 
problem, DeMille prestige vs. player salary. The former, De- 
Mille felt, was great enough to warrant a modification of the 
latter. To win over one agent he unreeled a long list of players 
owing their stardom to DeMille pictures. 

In the usual procedure, a producer instructs the studio cast- 
ing head to suggest this or that player for a certain role, and 
the deal is made. DeMille looked upon this method as slipshod. 
Poor casting reflected on a man's pride, no less so than poor 
writing. He worked on his stories, day after day, through each 
step of the plot, engaging his writers in a continuous round of 
pungent debate, denunciation and malignant outcries. DeMille, 
more than any producer, sired his plots and was keen to every 
little nuance in them, and therefore not just any player was 
qualified to bring the narrative to life. He made it not a point 
but a ceremony to tell every player just what a part meant and 
how it might be portrayed. 

"HIT SEX HARD!** 205 

It is impossible to say how many among the elite of filmdom, 
after a casting interview with DeMille, have floated out of his 
office on a fleecy cloud of dreamy anticipation. These sessions 
with the producer gained quite a little local repute, and were 
often the actress's first introduction to DeMille and his world. 

It was in his office that the producer rose to full stature as 
a storyteller, a proficiency which once inspired his private 
secretary, Florence Cole, to enthuse, "He could make the tele- 
phone directory sound dramatic. 7 * 

Agents were banned from the interviews, arranged after the 
field of candidates for a particular role was slimmed down to 
two or three. Each candidate in turn was called in. 

With DeMille at his imaginative best, the actual role suffered 
much in comparison with his expanded conception. He prome- 
naded back and forth across his office, explaining, portraying, 
always embroidering. The actress would sink back in her chair, 
awestruck, convinced that DeMille was offering her the most 
marvelous role of her career. 

Such a conclusion, though in eiror, was understandable, the 
actor having heard the plot from the standpoint of a single part, 
thereby greatly inflated. 

No matter how lofty her prestige, to DeMille every actress 
was considerably less than a goddess. He had been set back on 
his heels too often by their interpretations of what he had 
labored to put into his scripts. DeMille scripts, short on dia- 
logue and long on action, were susceptible singularly to one 
translation, and its author felt duty bound to translate it to the 
world himself. In the hands of mere technicians like actresses 
DeMille felt the risk could be frightening. "Actresses are pretty 
things, and nice to look at. But don't turn them loose on your 


THE sex-for-the-masses policy that influenced his 
early pictures drew DeMille into many conflicts. Some column- 
ists suggested he was getting rich on nudity, especially where 
Biblical subjects were involved. "I didn't write the Bible and 
I didn't create sin," he would reply. What irritated a number of 
the correspondents who had covered the Hollywood beat for 
years was their inability to get "the old man to break down just 
once and confess what he was really up to." They were con- 
vinced DeMille was playing a game, but it was dangerous to 
question his sincerity. Try as they might they could not succeed 
in luring from him an admission that his claims to a unique 
ministry by way of movies was a brilliant piece of showman- 
ship. Their sly digs drew from DeMille a pet reply "If you 
condemn my Bible pictures, you condemn the Bible." To this 
there appeared no sufficient answer unless they could prove he 
was playing fast and loose with Biblical text. 

On the other hand, he had an incisive faculty for knowing 
how to "sell" a picture. He set the mood of the promotion and 
publicity on every one of his pictures; while most producers 
were happy to rely on the advice of others, DeMille fussed, 
fretted, probed, experimented, until he came up with an ap- 
proach. He was jubilant over his analysis of the Samson and 
Delilah theme 'Well sell it as a story of faith, a story of the 
power of prayer. That's for the censors and the women's organi- 
zations. For the public it's the hottest love story of all time," 

In Samson, he had evolved a striking, climactic tale out of 
a few episodes from the Book of Judges. He held no doubts 
about its power, and his confidence in a full public approval 


"HIT SEX HARD!" 207 

was never greater. Rarely had he had so many ideas about one 
of his movies. 

And he got a chance to express a few, though under circum- 
stances he could not have foreseen. 

It was in March 1950. Paramount was disturbed over a regu- 
lation in the Chicago area that did not permit a picture to run 
more than two weeks in any downtown theater to prevent ex- 
hausting the picture's market before it reached the residential 

A mere two weeks! A DeMiDe picture was just getting 
warmed up at that point, and the public, forgetting all the nasty 
things the critics had said, were discovering for itself the pic- 
ture's real merits. DeMille felt he could always depend upon 
the public. 

Paramount went into Federal court in Chicago with a request 
that the regulation be set aside and Samson and DeKldh be 
permitted an extended run in the downtown area. 

DeMille was the principal witness for the petitioners. 

Motives were inquired into quickly. Paramount's attorney 
asked DeMille whether he was interested in making a profit on 
the picture. 

The witness smiled. It wasn't a question he would have pre- 
ferred, but a record had to be made on the point. 

What had motivated him in choosing this particular Bible 

"You mean other than money?" asked DeMille. 

"Yes, other than money." 

"Well, if the Court will permit me to go back a little, my 
father was studying for the Episcopal ministry when he met my 
mother . . . and she persuaded him he would have a greater 
congregation in the theater than in the Church, so he became 
one of America's greatest playwrights and carried his message 
throughout this nation, and when motion pictures came along I 
was enabled to carry on through his teachings ... he read to us 

208 Y, Mr. DeMille 

every night ... a chapter of the Old Testament and New Testa- 
ment and a chapter from American History " 

The witness estimated that about eighty million persons 
would see the picture, not counting "at least forty million who 
are not picturegoers, or theatergoers, and who don't read the 
movie columns or movie magazines/' 

"Upon what do those people depend for their recommenda- 
tion as to pictures they should see?" 

"On religious magazines, on the preaching from the pulpits, 
but most of all on the word of mouth that this picture is not 
an ordinary movie but carries a message they should hear." 

Upon cross-examination the opposing attorney referred to 
DeMille's pictures as spectacles. 

The witness flushed. "I challenge the statement." 

"How would you describe them?" 

"How would I describe them?" 


"As works of art." 

"They were also, let us say, spectacular pictures, were they 
not? Spectacle pictures?" 

"Your definition of a spectacle, I am not sure what that 
would be. If you will tell me what you mean by spectacle I can 
answer that." 

"What I am trying to get at is this: you have scenes with 
four or five thousand people, haven't you?" 

"We used to be able to use four or five thousand, but we 
can't any more." 

"You can't any more? You can't use that many?" 

"No, sir, prices are too high." 

'Would you go this far with me? In 1947 your pictures were 
well known in the trade and had assumed a more or less stand- 
ard pattern?" 

"Well, sir, I once made a picture for Ina Claire for $9,000. 
You say a standard pattern?" 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 209 

"Well, these Biblical pictures liave assumed a more or less 
standard pattern, haven't they?" 

"Well, I don t think the Bible story follows a standard 
pattern. You have the Old Testament, you have the New Testa- 

"In this instance you have followed the pattern of the Bible 
as you see it?" 

"I follow the pattern of the Bible as it is written." 

"Is there any difference in these pictures generally, their 
general character, general make-up, general production, as in 
these other Biblical pictures you have produced?** 

"Yes, sir, the Bible story is different" 

"I know it is different but you know what I mean, the general 
theme, the general treatment of it, the general approach to it 
is the same, is it not?" 

"No, sir, I do not know what you mean. I am sorry." 

"Well, this picture Samson and Delilah is completely differ- 
ent, you think, from the other Bible pictures that you have 

"From The King of Kings, yes. It is a different story." 

"It is a different story but is the treatment different?" 

"Yes, the treatment is totally different from The King of 

"In what way?" 

"Well, The King of Kings is the difference between the Old 
Testament and the New Testament" 

"Now, as I understand your testimony on direct examination, 
it is that the religious theme and religious treatment and re- 
ligious angle are, I think you put it, quite near to your heart. 
Is that your position?" 

"Yes, sir, very near to my heart." 

"And you want the largest number of people possible to see 
this religious theme so they can be benefited by the religious 
teaching of the picture?" 

"Yes, sir." 

210 es, Mr. DeMitte 

The questioning turned to the role of Delilah, played by 
Hedy Lamarr. 

Q. Now, Miss Lamarr has been cast and featured in pictures 

quite foreign to the religious motif, hasn't she? 
A. Yes, I would think so. 
Q. Would you call her a seductive star? 
A. Seductive? 
Q. Yes. 

A. Delilah was a very seductive lady. 
Q. This is a story of seduction, isn't it? 
A. Story of seduction? It is a story of faith. 
Q. Well, is it a story of seduction? 
A. No, sir, it is not. 
Q. It is not? 
A. No, sir. 

Q. Samson and Delilah is not a story of seduction? 
A. No, sir, it is a story of triumph over seduction, it is a story 

of faith, of faith in God, of a man who, as I said, did not 

have vision until he was blinded, who yielded to the world 

of the flesh and the devil and in making his escape he was 

able to save his people 

Q. All right, you said Samson and Delilah was not a story of 

seduction. Did Delilah try to seduce Samson? 
A. And succeeded. 
Q. And Hedy Lamarr, you think, is well fitted for that role in 

the picture? 

A. She gives a very fine performance. 
Q* Are the pictures which you have got connected with your 

petition here, are they correct showing as to how she is 

A. Yes, sir, except that the breasts are bare in the one picture 

and we covered them. 
Q. Well, you had to get by the Board of Censors somehow, 

didn't you? 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 211 

A. We had to follow the rules of good taste and decency. 

Q. And that is why you did that? 

A. Why we always follow them in my pictures. 

Q. Who is Victor Mature? Is he Samson in the picture? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. He has been cast in roles somewhat foreign to religion 
that is true, isn't it? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. He has a large feminine following of movie fans? 

A, I hope so. 

Q. You knew those things when you were casting, didn't you? 

A. Of course I cast the most popular man that was suited for 
the part. 

Q. And you cast the most popular actress suited for the seduc- 
tive part, didn't you? 

A* No, sir. 

Q. Well, you did cast her? 

A. Yes, sir. 

DeMille won his case, and the saga of the Jewish strong 
boy and the Philistine temptress played extra weeks in the 
Windy City. 

In reality, the story was as clearly a drama of seduction as 
any could be. DeMille knew it as well as the attorneys, but only 
the incorrigibly foolish would have expected the boss at a public 
hearing to cast aside one of his most basic precepts that a thing 
is often no more or no less than what you represent it to be. 

DeMille was convinced his appearance at the Chicago hear- 
ing left much to be desired. Opposing counsel had irked him 
greatly, and the replies which he had been forced to make 
fretted on his memory. He was furious over a reference to the 
hearing that appeared a few days later in a Chicago daily, and 
subsequently reprinted in the New Yorker magazine, his arch 

212 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

The item in the New Yorker, under the caption "Furthermore 
Department," read: 

From the Chicago Daily News: The film is a work of art, of 
great interest to people of religious faith because it is a Biblical 
story, DeMille said on the witness stand in Federal court here 

"All denominations commend the picture," he said. *lt will 
draw 40 million people who don't usually go to movies. My 
father studied for the ministry and read the Bible in our home, 
and this picture is near my heart. Furthermore, we have to take 
in $7,000,000 on it to break even" 

The transcript of DeMille's testimony revealed no statements 
in that juxtaposition. DeMille called in attorneys and ordered 
them to demand retractions from the editors. They refused even 
in the face of strong hints of legal action. No suits were brought, 
and once again DeMille's convictions about "the big city press" 
were rekindled. 


DEMILLE'S testimony in Federal court that day 
would have attracted much wider interest had he revealed his 
real attitude toward the Samson story the attitude he set forth 
nearly four years earlier when he gathered with writers for the 
first time to outline the mood and spirit of the Biblical story. 

That session took place on July 19, 1946. Like all of DeMille's 
opening story conferences, it was an occasion long awaited. The 
writers marked the day because DeMille would give them the 
first word on how he expected the story to shape up. What he 
said would become a sort of blueprint, a master plan for the 
coming months. His ideas at these opening conferences were 
set down in shorthand, copies thereafter distributed, to be con- 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 213 

suited and referred to when a writer, unwittingly or not, strayed 
from the original theme. 

On this occasion DeMille held an Old Testament on his lap, 
the page turned to the Samson chapters in the Book of Judges; 
he read aloud from the Great Book, stopping after each verse 
to give his interpretation of what it meant. Biblical scholars 
might have shuddered at the swift analysis of the episodes, and 
the ease with which DeMille supplied links between unlinked 
occurrences. DeMille began: 

I really got part of the idea for Samson and Delilah from an 
old Hindu story about a courtesan who loved a priest. She was 
the mistress of an emperor and when the emperor foinid out 
about the priest he had the courtesan's feet, hands and breasts 
cut off and he threw her on a dung heap outside the city, and 
then the priest came and sat with her. 

And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the 
Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, 
and bare not. 

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and 
said unto her, "Behold, now, thou art barren, and bearest not; 
but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son." 

And the woman bare a son, and called him Samson. And the 
child grew, and the Lord blessed him. 

Actually Samson's mother swore him to be whatever it was a 
Nazarite? to be clean from birth, to touch no liquor or women, 
but he didn't live up to that, apparently. 

Then his father and his mother said unto him y "Is there never 
a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among aU my 
people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumdsed 
Philistines?" Samson said unto his father, "Get her for me, for 
she pleaseth me wett" 

Samson says, "Get her for me, for she pleaseth me well.'* You 
can see his father saying, "Listen, Samson, my boy, why do you 
have to go over to the other side and choose a daughter of our 
enemies? Well, you can have many beauties right here in our 
own neighborhood. Look at Sam Jones* daughter down the 

214 Y^ Mr. DeMille 

street " But Samson says, "Look, Dad, I like this one. Get herl" 

Brethren is better than Israelites or Jews. As much as possible 
we will remove all mention of sectarianism. Use people as much 
as possible and as little of lews, Israelites and tribe of Dan. 

So his father went down unto the woman; and Samson made 
there a feast; for so used the young men to do. 

Evidently the bridegroom gave the first banquet . . . seven 
days . * . wowl A feast seven days long! They knew how to throw 
a feast in those days. A little later on in the story there's a second 
sister. She's the younger sister of the girl Samson wants to marry. 
Now keep the younger sister in mind because she's quite a bitch. 
The older sister apparently was a bit of a scheming dame like 
women sometimes are. The little girl, well she is determined to 
split that marriage if she can. Samson is at this feast of Philis- 
tines, and he has proposed a riddle to the guests, and made a 
wager with them, but they can't guess the answer. They want 
to, because they're wild to put this rube, this country boy, in 
his place. He's stepping pretty high, this punk from the hills, 
coming in there and marrying a high-born Philistine girl. So the 
younger sister sees something here, a way to break up the love 
match. Her sister, she figures, can get the answer to the riddle 
out of Samson if anyone can. The younger sister has no motive 
in the world, except from the bottom of her feet to the top of 
her head, her body tingles when she sees him, and she wants him. 
She's never had a man but, boy, she's ripe and she wants that 
Samson. Now there's nothing in the Bible about all this, but it 
could give us the motive we need. So this scheming little dame 
goes up to the Philistine guests all big tough bruisers, they're 
the soldiers and she teases 'em. "Why don't you get the bride to 
find out the answer to the riddle?" She says to George, "You 
know her quite well. I've seen you behind the apple bush. Why 
don't you . . ." Well, they like the idea. **We re not going to let 
a country bumpkin come in and make suckers out of us." Nobody 
has picked a fight with Samson, but he's a strange figure sitting 
there. The little girl has been pouring and serving, with eyes for 
no one but this man. 

And Samsons tcife wept before him and said, *Thou dost but 
hate me, and lovest me not; thou has put forth a riddle unto the 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 215 

children of my people, and has not told it me." . . * And Sam- 
sons wife wept before him 

You can see this dame trying to wheedle the answer to the 
riddle out of him. 

And she wept before him the seven days . . . and it came to 
pass on the seventh day that he told her, because she lay sore 
upon him; and she told the riddle to the children of her people. 

And she wept before him ... In other words he was having a 
helluva time, and the little sister was saying, *Boy, it worksf 

. . . because she lay sore upon him . . . either she plagued the 
life out of him or she twined her beautiful body around him. 
You can interpret that any way you like. So she double-crossed 
him. This was his wedding present, this is how he got -it. The 
whole damn thing turns into a frightful tragedy. 

. ..If ye had not ploughed with my heifer ye had not found 
out my riddle . . . 

That's what Samson says when the guests tell hfrn the answer 
to the riddle, and he is mad as hell. Every time the Spirit of 
the Lord comes upon him he goes out and rips about ninety 
people apart. He just got mad as hell, and when he got mad he 
was strong as hell. Well, they had the riddle, so Samson lost the 
wager and owes them thirty garments, one for each of them. 

. . . and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave 
change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And 
his anger was kindled 

In other words he said, "Oh, you came in here to get my wife. 
That's the kind of people you are. You want your thirty gar- 
ments? IT1 get them for you." He kills thirty people and brings 
back the garments and says, "Gentlemen, the bet is now paid." 
Now here's the rough part When he gets back with the gar- 
ments he finds that they have given his wife to her old beau, a 
Philistine like herself. 

But Samsons wife was given to his companion, whom he had 
used as his friend. 

The friend is the head Philistine, who has been in love with 
the older sister. They may even have had an affair together. 
Samson was just a country sucker he'd just landed in town. 

216 Y<tf, Mr. DeMilk 

Remember that we haven t yet brought in the little sister in the 
Bible. She is the dominating force of that feast. She knows of 
the affair between the friend and her sister. You have to be 
careful you don't lose this younger sister for all time. She loves 
Samson, but if she knows Samson is being tricked, being hood- 
winked, lied to, made a clown . . . and she loves him and that's 
why she's doing it. Be very careful you don't come up with the 
kind of dame in Children s Hour. This sister has a great passion 
and sees the man she loves being made a fool of. You have a 
terrific driving force in this girl's love. It has to be the strongest 
thing we have ever seen. It's passion 3,000 years ago. Now, Sam- 
son feels it is safe to come back after he killed the thirty gentle- 
men. You can see the little sister getting ready for this. When 
Samson comes back and demands to see his wife, the little one 
knows her sister is married given to the other guy and the cat 
that ate the canary is nothing to this dame. As she looks at this 
guy she wants him more than ever, and now is her chance. 

And he* father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly 
hated her; therefore 1 gave her to thy companion; is not her 
younger sister fairer than she? Take her, I pray thee, instead 
of her. 

That's the father's offer: take the younger sister who is prettier 
than the older sister. Now this is her moment, but he doesn't 
pay any attention to the little dame at all. He says, "Those sons 
of bitches married my girl off. You connived in it, Papa, and 
anything I do in your goddamn city is on your head." Looking 
for a minute at the younger daughter he evidently said, "Oh, 
nuts! Take that little thing away." So, all the little girl's plans, 
her ego, the new dress she had fixed and the manicure and the 
headdress aD went phooey out into the gutter. I don't know 
what he said to her, maybe "You little pigtailed rat 111 give 
you to my son." Anyway, it must have seared a white-hot poker 
through the kid's soul, so much so that it will motivate every- 
thing that follows in our story, 

. . . and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and 
the cords that were upon his arms became as -flax that was burnt 
with foe, and his bands loosed of his hands. 

You can see Doug Fairbanks or Superman all tied up. 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 217 

And Tie found a new jawbone of an ass, and put -forth his 
hand and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. 

That probably was a helluva fight, a terrific show for drama. 
Probably the fight has grown. He probably killed three people 
and by the time it had got to the tribe of Levi it was ten thou- 
sand. Now, I want to tell you this. Productions are going up to 
three and four million dollars. I want to do this picture for two 
million. This picture doesn't need crowds; they are of no value 
to it. The ruins are little bits of places. I'm going to get a lot 
of the effects with painting, a lot of shooting outdoors and up 
at my ranch without even any transportation charges. The mag- 
nificence of costumes. Yes, the magnificence of drapes because 
that's the setting of the jewel. There's only one big set that I 
see and that's the temple scene at the end. 

Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there a harlot, and went 
in unto her. 

This is typical Robin Hood stuff. He does a terrific thing, sup- 
posedly has a miracle of the Lord and then goes down and finds 
a whore. You can see them surrounding the house. This guy's 
in there, and they start edging up to the place. He gets out, 
then carries off the gates of the city. There's a wonderful draw- 
ing of that in Tissaud. 

Now, they chase h all over the bills but he keeps getting 
away. The Lords of the Philistines are pretty shrewd babies; 
if they can't capture him by force they'll do it another way, an 
easy way, through a woman. So they go to Delilah. Why Delilah? 
Now get this, the Bible doesn't name the little sister at the 
wedding feast who was spurned, and who hates Samson with 
every fiber in her body. But well name her. Well call her 
Delilah. See! There's our motive. We can't follow the Bible story 
because Delilah doesn't enter into it until way toward the end. 
But if you call the little sister Delilah, then everything makes 
sense. She's out to get him because he's wrecked her home and 
burned the fields of her people, and he's spurned her. When 
the Lords of the Philistines come to her and say, **You knew this 
man. Listen, you have charm and a beautiful body. You can do 
anything with any man. Go out and entice him. Find out where 

218 Y^ Mr. DeMille 

his strength is." You can see what her viewpoint is. "Boy, will I! 
Ill bring this bastard in with a ring through his nose. I'll lead 
him! The only condition I make is that you won't harm him. He's 

And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for 
a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his 
head; and she began to afflict him, and hi$ strength went from 

That's quite a scene. There Delilah has her great triumph and 
the Philistines come and take him away. Now they'd promised 
not to touch his skin. Well, they didn't. But they held a hot 
poker near his eyes and blinded him. When she goes to visit him 
in the prison house he's blind! She cringes with remorse. Hell 
never see her beauty, her lovely body, the things that prompted 
her to do everything so she could be his, so she could show her- 
self to him, get the satisfaction of the passion from him that she 
could create. It was all gone! If she was an ugly wench it wouldn't 
be any different That's when she falls in love with him. She 
goes down and sits with him, the great Delilah, the great cour- 
tesan, the great mistress of the King, goes down and sits with 
this outcast, this blinded, ridiculous slave. 

Now, there are certain things you cannot do. You can't offend 
the great house of Israel. I think they regard him as a clown 
more than anything else. Samson was a whoremonger, a guy 
who apparently went out and raised hell. He's no fool and yet 
he's a fool He goes out and gets drunk and does the shrewdest 


LATE in November 1939, Paramount purchased the 
film rights to Family Portrait for $35,000, to be made into a 
movie produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille. 
Anxious inquiries burst from a number of religious quarters. 

"HIT SEX HAHD!" 219 

Vas DeMille going to base a story of the Virgin Mary on 
7 amily Portrait and did he not realize that the Broadway play 
lepicted Mary as the mother of several children? 

America, the prominent Jesuit weekly, quickly entered the 
jrowing controversy. It angrily branded Family Portrait as 
leretical because it denied the divinity of Christ, His Resur- 
ection, the virginity of Mary, and the Immaculate Conception. 

A lengthy "open letter to Cecil DeMille" appeared in The 
Queens Work, the official publication of Catholic Sodalists. 
Vhe Queen's Work was edited by DeMille's old friend, Father 
Dan Lord. The open letter was signed "The Staff,'' but was 
ictually written by Lord. 

In this day, when purity is taking such a battering and vir- 
ginity is treated with contempt, a play that presented Mary, not 
as a virgin but as the mother of a large family, is more than 
distasteful to us. 

. . . You are going to be surprised and probably shocked to 
find how many followers of Christ bitterly dislike, if they do 
not actively hate, the mother of the Savior. 

Some queer twist of the human mind makes men think that 
Christ would be pleased with them if they attacked His 
Mother Yours is a heavy responsibility. 

DeMille and Father Lord had been talking off the record 
about the Mary story prior to publication of the letter; now it 
was out in the open between them. 

Father Lord, a peaceable man, hurriedly sent a note to 
DeMille. The open letter, the priest wrote, had aroused wider 
publicity than he had intended: 

As you realize, I looked upon it as answer to the many 
Sodalists who were asking, 'How is DeMille going to handle it, 
and how about Family Portrait?' I felt the letter would reassure 
. . . hundreds of thousands of Catholics interested in your pic- 
ture. I hadn't intended that publicity . . .hope you regard it as 
entirely friendly and entirely favorable 

From other Christian sects came signs of concern. 

220 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

But at Paramount, William LeBaron, production head at the 
time, sent a jubilant note to DeMille: Hooray for controversy! 

DeMille did not share the sentiment. When it came to 
publicity he rarely objected, but this was of a kind distinctly 
not to his liking, Moreover, if Family Portrait was useless, a 
$35,000 mistake had been made. 

To his numerous critics, DeMille made soothing reply, an- 
nouncing that no part of Family Portrait would be used in his 

He said, "We are approaching the hallowed story with a 
deep sense of responsibility and with the same spiritual and 
artistic thrill that impelled the making of The King of Kings" 

Still, he felt something might be salvaged from the invest- 
ment in the play. He met with Joseph I. Breen of the Produc- 
tion Code office. The studio go-between at the time was Luigi 
Luraschi, an amiable, spirited man whose duties, in addition to 
wrestling with the Breen office, included the checking of scripts 
for whatever might offend any race or creed outside of the 
United States (a function which, with respect to material 
offensive to Americans, did not appear to be vested in any 
single person at Paramount). 

Breen advised Luraschi that the play was not acceptable to 
large groups of professing Christians. First, the play suggested 
that Christ came from a large family and that his mother was 
not the Virgin Mary of the Gospels. Another major objection 
lay in that portion treating Christ, not as "the Divine Son of 
God/' but rather as a "son of man/' gifted with genius possibly, 
and nobler than his fellows. 

Further, should the stage play be adapted for the screen, 
Breen advised a treatment that would "definitely and affirma- 
tively" establish Christ as the only son of the Virgin Mary and 
as the Divine Son of God. 

If it had come to pass that fate had signaled him out as the 
world's foremost embattled dispenser of mass religion, DeMille 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 221 

was ready to accept the challenge. He was in no mood to be 
forced to rest on his Biblical laurels by mere differences of 
attitude or interpretations. As it was, he had long ago decided 
on a perfect title for a King of Kings sequel The Queen of 

Shortly after Christmas of the same year studio calm was 
shattered by a memorandum from Albert Deane of Paramount^ 
foreign office. Its contents were indeed exasperating to DeMille, 
already hobbled by forces he normally could ignore or conquer. 

In the British territories, chiefly Great Britain and Australia, 
a fairy or pansy is referred to as a quean, the memo advised. 

True, there was apparent difference in spelling between 
q-u-e-e-n and q-u-e-a-n, but, Paramount men in London feared, 
a ribald element might make a play on the title. 

DeMille was not inclined to regard this quirk in English 
phonetics as too alarming. He had a flair for pungent titles, and 
he had used quite a few that crackled with promise of in- 
cendiary pleasure Old Wives for New, Forbidden Fruit, The 
Golden Bed. 

Mulling over the unfortunate co-incidence of queen and 
quean, DeMille hit upon another tide that seemed perfect: The 
Virgin. It had box-office lure and, moreover, "ends any argu- 
ment about our using Family Portrait and shows we are treating 
the birth of Christ as set forth in the Bible." 

He tested it on clergymen; the results were not good. The 
title was dangerous and, if not offensive, at least misleading in 
its emphasis on a delicate aspect of the story. 

So, he went back to Queen of Queens, now willing to take his 
chances with ribald Britons. 

Paramount heads, always nervous over a DeMille Biblical, 
feared that this time there was real cause for alarm. They pre- 
vailed upon him to postpone further work on The Queen of 
Queens and produce a picture based on a serial then running in 
the Saturday Evening Post called "Reap the Wild Wind." 

222 Y, Mr. DeMitte 

It was secretly hoped DeMille would forget the Virgin 
Mary story; the producer was of no such a mind, 

He wrote Father Lord of the change in plans on Queen of 
Queens ("and, incidentally, I think I have won everyone over to 
this title"), adding that he would start on the Biblical picture 
following completion of Reap. 

He further told the priest he planned the story of a Mother 
who gave Her Son for the cause of humanity "as so many 

mothers in England and France are doing today The love 

of mother for son and son for mother is perhaps the purest 
emotion of which our mortal consciousness is capable. There 
have been many stories of motherhood that have been success- 
ful on the screen, and the story of the greatest of all Mothers 
should be the most successful." 

He disclosed he would have a treatment ready for discussion 
with the priest in the early fall. "Do you expect to come this 
way about that time? If not, I shall seek you." 

DeMille, an ox for work, personally swarmed over every 
detail of Reap the Wild Wind, at the same time supervising the 
progress of the Virgin Mary story. 

The first draft was being written by brother Bill. Kinship 
did not alter the usual uneasy DeMille-writer relationship. He 
had notified Bill that it was up to him to put it down on paper, 
and that he, Cecil, would outline the story, as well as its mood 
.and temper. Bill would submit his material as he wrote it, then 
sit back to wait for the explosion. Rarely did he wait in vain. 
But he was a person of enduring nature and unfailing good 
humor, and so patiently rode out each storm. 

In June 1940, Cecil telephoned Bill it was the day before 
the start of shooting on Reap the Wild Wind-to report his first 
reactions to Bill's preliminary draft of the story. 

Close at hand, a secretary took down what Cecil said, and 
kter sent a copy of the conversation to Bill for his guidance. 
DeMille's comments ran in part: 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 223 

... If we were on Mary's face and could see the whiplash 
descend on the back of Jesus, and could hear the blows, and the 
ridicule of the Roman soldiers, it would mean far more to us 
than to her John saying, "Oh, my, this is terrible ." 

Where the two lovers come out, Miriam is crying, and Judah 
says, "You mustn't cry youTI be ill" this is plain sloppy. Jesus 
is about to be crucified and this fellow is worrying because 
Miriam's eyes will be sore from weeping. 

So far, you haven't told us any story that can excite us much. 
I know the story is there but you haven't told it. 

Miriam and Judah: I'd have them watching the cross that's 
being dragged through the Via Dolorosa. Play different things 
over that. 

Perhaps Miriam grabs some water from a jar or bucket that 
someone has, and tries to get it to Jesus. She is stopped by 
Judah who says, Tf you do anything if you try to help Him, 
they'll kill you." Miriam says, "I don't care I don't care what 
they do to me He raised me from the dead. I want to help Him." 

A Roman soldier overhears this and looking at her> says, *What 
did you say?" 

That's the way to get scenes all through the story. As to the 
Mother at the bottom of the cross, I don't think it is right for 
her to cry out, "My Son, my Son." . . . 

DeMille looked upon the Catholic Church as the big stum- 
bling block to The Queen of Queens. At the same time he 
needed a sensitive thermometer of religious opinion. Catholic 
approval, he felt, would pretty much guarantee the picture a 
favorable reaction from religious groups generally. The two men 
he settled upon as official advisors were Father Lord and Bishop 
(then Monsignor) Fulton J. Sheen, two of the finest Catholic 

DeMille was aware now that his story treatment had some 
extremely touchy areas, chiefly the relationship between the 
Virgin Mary and husband Joseph. 

Hidden away in DeMille's mind was the possibility of staging 
Salome's famous dance of the veils, to sort of counteract the 
heavy overburden of piety. If "color" was needed, Salome 

224 Y, Mr. DeMilk 

looked to DeMille like the gal who could furnish it. His pre- 
liminary draft brought together Judas and Salome, and there 
were other scenes which undoubtedly would catch the ecclesi- 
astical eye of Sheen and Lord. 

DeMille hoped to do a repeat of a party as lively as the 
one before the golden calf in The Ten Commandments. But 
this time he would stage the orgy in Herod's court with teasing 
soubrettes dressed in little more than serves a stoker crew on a 
river steamer. 

It was the DeMille formula at work, and once again he 
risked getting caught between the hammer of propriety and the 
anvil of "popular appeal." The Herod's-court sequence, he felt, 
would prove what the Bible plainly intimated, that there were 
voluptuaries in those days who liked their drink strong and 
their women awash with willingness. 

Those were the big issues when DeMille sent Bill off with 
the preliminary draft to see the two priests. 

"Remember, you are dealing with Jesuits who have graduated 
far beyond the kindergarten stage." Cecil cautioned him. He 
told him not to try to get dramatic criticism from the priests, 
only advice on church attitude. 

See whether we are on any dangerous ground with Catholi- 
cism, he wrote in a letter to Bill shortly after his departure. 

Then added: I want to know whether they think our por- 
trayal of the Virgin Mother is "sufficient" in character, ideal and 
treatment to warrant their approval of our dramatization of 
their great Heroine. 

Cecil did not think it would be a good idea to leave the draft 
with Father Lord. His note to Bill continues: 

If you can get from him what you want without leaving the 
draft with him we will be much better of because it will be 
copied, sent to Rome, and will become the official accepted or 
rejected version of the story. 

Bill must have smiled indulgently at the last instructions 
they might have caused him to wonder whether Cecil was in- 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 225 

timating the Catholic hierarchy would purloin his bouncy story 
of the Virgin Mary and institute it as the ex-cathedra version. 
At any rate it aroused new awe for his brothers sprightly 

DeMille's fondness for Father Lord lost some of its edge; 
the priest's behavior in recent months was causing him to 
wonder whether he might not have been mistaken in his original 
estimate of the man. 

If you have to give Father Lord a copy of the draft to study, 
I would not leave it with him for any length of time. I suggest 
that you remain there in St Louis while he studies it, and then 
take it back. When we have a finished manuscript ... we will 
be glad to send Father Lord a copy to study, 

In previous talks the priest had urged upon DeMille the 
possibility he was treading on dangerous ground: 

If you do a film on Mary, you run the risk of offending both 
Protestants and the Catholics. If you present her beautifully, 
Protestants will accuse you of being pro-Catholic. And if the 
film has the slightest element that Catholics think unfitting to 
associate with Mary, you will hear such an outcry that youTl be 
forced to run for shelter. You see> we Catholics feel we own the 
Blessed Virgin. 

On his arrival in St. Louis, Bill learned Father Lord was out 
of the city. He proceeded to Washington and sat down with 
the learned Sheen. The lengthy conference sparkled with a 
pleasant interchange of ideas. Bishop Sheen's real feelings 
toward the script were not known; he devoted the entire time 
to explaining the accepted idioms and rituals. He did not indi- 
cate to what extent, if any, he was disturbed by the sensitive 
portions of the story. 

Bill was overjoyed. He reported to Cecil by letter that all had 
gone famously with Sheen, pointing out, however, he felt the 
bishop may have been "a bit shocked by the comedy references 
to the bridegroom's eagerness to get to his bride.* It did appear 

226 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

Bishop Sheen had made an effort to alter the story line, for Bill 
reported, "He was so interested he began to write the play and 
make numerous suggestions for added scenes " 

The conference with Father Lord took place two months 

They spent two days going over the scenario. 

"It was completely dreadful," the priest recalled in an auto- 
biography published in 1956, shortly after his death. 

The story focused around the love affair of Judas, this time 
with Salome. . . . The climactic scene occurred during the dance 

of the seven veils Mary is in the garden outside the house 

of Herod, and the camera is swinging back from the dancing 
Salome to the suffering Mother in the shadows as she tries to 
save John the Baptist. 

Father Lord was convinced that the Catholic public would 
raise the roof. His memoirs then disclosed something surprising 
only to those who did not know Bill. 

Bill DeMille had come to St. Louis chilly to the whole idea 
of the film. He knew the scenario was hash and a hazard, and 
though lie submitted it to me with objective justice and some 
show of enthusiasm, the moment I began to take it apart he was 
entirely in agreement. 

Two days later Lord sent DeMille a seven-page criticism, 
along with a statement of the reasons why the scenario "must 
not and could not be done," and a prediction of the extent of 
Catholic anger if the script ever became a screen reality. 

Referring to the episodes between Joseph and Mary on their 
wedding night, he said DeMille "would have to realize that this 
is delicate ground. Any slightest rough handling of Mary by 
Joseph would cause a lot of criticism.** 

He said too much building up of Joseph's "doubt" (as to his 
relationship with his Virgin wife) would cause mingled re- 
actions in die audience, largely nervous, since the Scriptures say 
so clearly that Joseph's doubt was cleared "while he slept." 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 227 

Father Lord wondered whether it would not be better to show 
Joseph "on worried guard outside Mary's door on their wedding 
night, followed by a momentary suggestion of drowsing, then 
the light to indicate his doubts are cleared up." This would 
cover possible Scriptural criticism. 

The priest pointed to the Salome-Judas-Herod sequences. 
They were "new and different," and a problem that had to be 
faced. He continues: 

If it goes frankly pagan, if there are costumes that are Fofly- 
ish, if the dancing is shown as wild, etc., etc., there will be 
very unfavorable reactions and consequent headaches People 
will go to this film expecting something on an extraordinarily 
high level If they get pagan orgy and bacchanal, criticism will 
be insistent and troublesome This would hold true about 
the costumes of the women of the court, and especially of Salome 
herself 1 keep wondering about the possibility of not show- 
ing Salome's dance itself, but doing it entirely by suggestion 
as you did in the famous stripping scene in The Volga Boatman. 

It seemed to have been somewhat Father Lord's fate to keep 
films about the Blessed Virgin off the screen. The priest re- 
counted in his memoirs how he had frustrated the Warner 
brothers* plans to film The Miracle, a story about an eloping 
nun, as also an effort by Stephen Vincent Benet and Samson 

The autobiography farther notes: 

When we were working on The Kings of Kings, with con- 
siderable amusement Cecil showed me a cartoon of himself, 
labeled "The Man that Nobody No's /* Indeed, I had been warned 
by many that to hfrn you said yes. The one who corrected that 
was Jearde Macpherson, who told me that I was to say no 
whenever the situation called for no. If I made any contribution 
to his great filrn, it was my constant use of the word no when 
I thought the scene simply would not do for the story of Christ 
Now I was saying no to an entire subject. In the future when 
we met, Mr. DeMille regarded me a little sorrowfully and re- 

228 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

minded me that I had blocked the production of The Queen of 
Queens. Personally, I think that was Mr, DeMille's good luck. 

Recalling it in later years, DeMille atttributed the abandon- 
ment of the project to the Catholic Church's attitude on "the 
one big scene I had in the picture, the meeting between the 
Paragon of Virtue and the Paragon of Evil." Father Lord had 
told him there was no evidence Mary and Salome had ever met, 
then added with the air of a man who had suffered much from 
the limitations of mortal minds, "He said I could not show 
them together." 

The boss's faith in the Jesuit order was revived a little during 
preparations for Samson and Delilah. The big gaps and seeming 
inconsistencies in the Biblical story were troubling him. It was 
apparent someone had to interpret these Scriptural passages if 
he was to put a narrative on paper. Dan Lord was mentioned 
as a possible advisor, but the boss shook his head. Then, at the 
suggestion of an assistant, a letter was written to one of the 
bright young Jesuits, Walter J. Ong, of St. Louis University, 
who already had made a considerable mark in literary circles. 

The priest was sent a number of questions about the Samson 
episodes in the Book of Judges, and a month later there arrived 
at the bungalow a 70-page treatise on the subject. 

It amazed and delighted the boss. 

Here was a Jesuit with common sense! The boss telephoned 
the assistant from Paradise, where he had been reading the 
treatise, and demanded to know who this Walter Ong was. 

"Why," he exclaimed, "that man has a marvelous mind." 

"He's the Dan Lord of the future," the assistant joined in, 
momentarily forgetting that the boss did not share the general 
feeling toward Lord. 

"What!" he shouted, "He's got more on the ball right now 
than Dan Lord ever had. And I know nothing about the man 
other than what he has written in this treatise." 

"HIT SEX HABD!" 229 

Ong's free commentary became an important reference 
through much of the early story discussions. 

A meeting between DeMille and Ong took pkce several 
months later, lasting only a few minutes during a train stop in 
Kansas City. DeMille extended a bit of fatherly encouragement 
to the young ascetic. "The Jesuits need your kind of thinking,'* 
he said; then added sorrowfully, "The world might have had a 
great document in the Virgin Mary story but Dan Lord wouldn't 
let me make it." 

But there was nothing to indicate Ong would have either. 


DEMILLE would outline his concepts to writers, 
then dispatch them to their typewriters. He expected those 
ideas to be reduced to writing in a form as dramatic as he felt 
he had presented them. 

This was where the trouble began. 

One scrivener spent months on a draft of a story about the 
Biblical hero Samson, working closely with the boss and assum- 
ing that he was doing fairly well, everything considered. One 
morning, as he passed DeMille in the corridor, he was handed 
a note reading: You have just killed the character of Samson. 
The writer, stunned, later sought out his employer and told him 
it might be helpful if they asked themselves what the objectives 
were that they were trying to reach. Tve told you that in 
every language including English," DeMille barked. 

Millions of words passed between DeMille and his writers 
over the relationship of hero and heroine. Every shade of re- 
action and attitude, every variation of human emotion that 
appealed to their sense of drama in those circumstances, was 
trotted out, looked at, taken apart, examined, kept or tossed 

230 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

away. Hours were spent in this manner on literally hundreds of 
concepts that never got into the final script even by implication. 
For example, the meeting of the triumphant Delilah and the 
blinded Samson in the gristmill, a fiery meaningful moment in 
DeMille's mind, occupied them endlessly in the effort to capture 
the emotions which DeMille felt were there. Then after periodic 
rehashing of that scene they finally went back to the concept 
which DeMille had outlined on the -first day the scene had come 
up for discussion, almost two years earlier! 

Another scene, by a water-lily pond, gave DeMille ample 
opportunity to peer clinically into his idea of an exciting 

Writer: Delilah knows Samson wants to marry her sister but 
she wants him for herself and she is pretty sure she can get 
him, so ... 

DeMille: The way you tell it, youVe lost the story of that 
struggle completely. It's a struggle between two women 
really. Delilah says, "Well, the sonof abitch." . . , This great 
gigantic brute and this lovely little girl who's in love with 
him, trying to entice him in different ways and getting no- 
where at all 

Writer: Then . . . 

DeMille: What he ought to do is to take her over his knee and 
paddle her with the leaf of a water lily. There are twenty 
totally different treatments you can give the scene that 
would be right but it has to be a lovely scene. This little girl 
playing there, doing what she can, occasionally showing her 
lovely body, getting a water lily caught in her hair, trying to 
be seductive and getting nowhere. 

Writer: He keeps . . . 

DeMille: He keeps trying to go and maybe he takes a leaf and 
whacks her on the batatada (folo) with it, 

Writer: Delilah makes it ... 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 231 

DeMille: She's going to outwit him terrifically and tragically 
in a few minutes. She says, ^ou big ox, I'm not a little girl to 
be whacked on the fanny. I'm a passionate woman. I love you! 
I want you! Why do you bother with my sister, that frozen 
blonde up there when there's something down here that's 
worth having?" That's what's in her mind. 

Writer: But Samson is too ... 

DeMille: Samson is for the big blonde. He wants to thaw her 
out. His should be the stupid mistake a man makes in telling 
the girl how beautiful her sister is and he's just getting 
Delilah on fire. He says, "After your sister and I are married 
why don't you come up and visit us sometime?" Delilah has 
to be the most fascinating thing that anybody ever ran into. 
They should make a pair that are flint and steel, whereas you 
have a pair that are rubber gloves . . , you don't get the power 
of those two characters. 

Writer: WeH... 

DeMille: Her body is against him, her cheek against him. He's 
having a helluva time and she's in seventh heaven with him 
in her aims. He should say, "111 have none of you. I know 
you, you little bitch. I know what you're here for. You've come 
to try and get me, haven't you? Well, listen. You can take your 
pretty little legs and feet and ankles and breasts and tie them 
in a wet blanket and go home for all of me. I'm not going to 
be caught as easily as that." . . . Then Miriam coming along, 
the sweet little girl from Samson's own village. Miriam and 
Delilah. The fight between good love and bad love. It isn't 
done here on a big-enough plane. The great courtesan and 
the great saint. You bring them together, you bring Delilah 
and the Virgin Mary together for a scene and you've got 
something to get your teeth into. Here you aren't playing with 
Christianity; but you're playing the great scene of the seduc- 
tress and the man seduced and she gets burned with her own 

232 Yea, Mr. DeMilk 

At another stage in the writing, he was unhappy over t 
progress of an episode in which Samson takes refuge in Delilal 
tent. Pacing back and forth and gesticulating, he told the write 
why he was unhappy: 

"This is an emotional, powerful scene that has to squee: 
tears out of a stone wall. The characters don't believe wh 
they're doing and neither do we. 

"When Samson comes into this wonderful place to take refuj 
when she pulls him in, he sees this little girl that he kicke 
out, the little girl who has run away from home to go to he 
We must play with that situation like a cat plays with a mous 
It's beautiful stuff. She may keep her back to him for a whi 
or needle him for a while or she might say, *Why are you tryxc 
to get away?' And then she turns around. He sees who she i 
And he cries out, 'Jesus H. Christ! DELILAH!' 

"Does she try to bait him? Does she say, 'Nuts to you 
Maybe she is going to call the guard and he takes her in h 
arms and kisses her so she can't talk for ten minutes. She say 
Tve waited a long time for that kiss.' He says, 'You'll wait 
long time for the next one.' And she says, "By God, I will ca 
the guard.' And she goes to call the guard after she's gotten hir 
where he's a little loose in the knees. We can have an audienc 
so delighted and so afraid with a scene like that. We're dealin 
with liquid fire." 

DeMille: What is the situation created at the end of the scene 
Writer: Delilah is frustrated, What she wants to do now is t< 

fulfill her promise to make Samson crawl. 
DeMille: Yes, she has a mad on but does she want to destroy 

Writer: Before she destroys him physically, she wants to de 

stroy him, spiritually. 
DeMille: Ummm 

Writer: She wants to make his heart and soul cry out. 
DeMille: Why? 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 233 

Writer: Because Samson is responsible for the death of her 
father and sister. 

DeMille: He brought death and destruction on her family, then 
laughed at her. 

Writer: In the course of the scene she brings him to the point 
of just 

DeMille: He wants to take her, yes? 

Writer: And just as he is about to, she turns him down. 

DeMille: He wants to seduce her. She leads him on. She gets 
him hot, then says nothing doing. 

Writer: She tortures him. 

DeMille: Up to now I think we have tried to write this scene 
a little from the grand opera standpoint rather than from two 
people. You have got to get it down where I believe it. Joe 
and Mabel down behind the cotton mill by the Los Angeles 
River. When you get it on that basis, it will be true. An 
audience will just laugh when she gives him that talk [waving 
an earlier draft of the scene] about her arms and eyes. If 
Delilah talks about herself she can't be much. I've never 
heard Betty Grable say she has a good figure. But if Samson 
talks about Delilah's legs ... If he says, "My God, what you 
have grown into? Even your feet are pretty" 

From the earliest days, DeMille broke sharply with the usual 
Hollywood method of screenplay writing. He renounced the 
custom of sending a writer off to some distant retreat with an 
order to return several weeks later with a complete story draft. 
DeMille stationed writers in the bungalow and worked with 
writers in the most uncompromising sense of the phrase. He felt 
he could drive them to greater literary heights if he kept at 
them. He once told us, "I fracture my writers, I keep at them 
until they are half crazy and in the end the blood and tears will 
get me what I want. I rarely accept their first efforts/' 

What he feared most was a lot of "pretty" conversation be- 
tween his story characters. "Pretty writing can ruin a picture." 1 

234 Jes> Mr. DeMitte 

This morbid dread of "talk/' pictures was at the core of his 
turbulent relationships with writers. He kept an eye peeled for 
any spoken word that might slow down the forward march of 
his plots; if it did, out it went. Experience of others had made 
him sensitive to pictures with too much dialogue "artistic pic- 
tures that please the critics and writers and lose money at the 
box office." This attitude sharply reversed itself when it came 
to his press agents. They spared no metaphor. Their nouns 
rarely escaped the typewriter unescorted by a conceited adjec- 
tive. Their phrases rode atop ideas like a peacock plume on a 
tarn, hopeful that the ornament would obscure the vacuity of 
the idea. They were talking about DeMille pictures, and that 
was a different matter. 

He brought in name authors as well as the industry's ace 
scriveners, and paid them big salaries not to write what they 
wanted but what he wanted. This tendency to exercise their 
craft independently of him has caused DeMille some of the 
most agonizing moments of his life. "God protect me from the 
writer who wants to write." He compared this type to a builder 
"who spends all his time on pretty shutters and scalloped flower 
boxes before he has put in the foundation and plumbing." 

He once hurled a scathing dictum at a writer who had spent 
several hours searching for the right adjective: "Your problem 
can be summed up quite easily. You've impaled yourself on a 
toothpick. Instead of stepping over it you're screaming with 

In one episode for The Greatest Show on Earth Frank Cavett, 
one of the colony's most talented script writers, had a character 
saying, "Oooh! What I said!" It was the sort of thing that 
brought the producer out of his office on the run. 

"What does it mean?" said DeMille, too busy to keep up 
with conversational fads. 

Cavett told him it was mock surprise, a sort of "throw-away" 
piece of dialogue. 

"Throw away!" repeated the astonished DeMille. "We throw 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 235 

away nothing in a DeMille script. That line's not only a waste 
but it means the character is a pansy/' 

Cavett, whose "Going My Way" had won an Academy award, 
remained away from his desk for a few days to recover from 
the shock. Sensitive, like scores of other writers before him, 
Cavett could not get adjusted to this method of evolving a 
screenplay, and left after a few weeks. 

Melodrama burned brightly in DeMille's mind. If he warred, 
rather than worked, with his writers it was because he wanted 
them to feel the scenes as deeply as he did. He constantly 
hammered at the emotional meaning. Once he cried, "There's 
terrific power in this scene. You can get the audience so worked 
up they can't bear it. What I want here is something that would 
make Shakespeare say, *Why didn't I think of that*!" 

DeMille: This is the best piece of writing thus far but I am 
still a little puzzled by the motives of the two people. It's 
very well done but what is it they do? I don't know what the 
man is thinking. I'm not sure whether she is in love with him 
or not. He starts out by saying, "You're a vicious little bitch," 
but I don't know how he finishes. What's she trying to do? 
You don't reach any climax. You ring the curtain down be- 
cause you have run out of breath. They're just exactly at 
the point where they came in. 

Writer B: His whole feeling has changed. 

DeMille: Where do I get that, except from you? Now he says, 
"You're not going to do anything to me, I'm getting out." 
What progress has been made? 

Writer A: She breaks him down in the course of the scene. 

DeMille: Where? How? Where does she break him down? 

Writer A: Page 100. . . . 

236 Y^ Mr. DeMille 

DeMille (looks over page 100) : Nuts! I don't get that here 
He hasn't changed a bit. There's nothing here that changes 
him. Let me see why he changes. He doesn't just look at the 
moon and start to drool. What is his emotion? 

Writer B: He starts out by being very suspicious of her 

Then she doesn't give him away. 

DeMille: Is he falling in love with her? Is he suspicious of her? 
It's a rambling scene because there is no point of construction. 

Writer A: The objective of the whole scene is when he takes 
her in his arms and tells her where he is going to be. 

DeMille: He tells her his hiding place! Why would he do that? 
If he does he's a goddamn fool He's suspicious of her, and 
would he say, "You have pretty legs. I live up in a big cave. 
You won't tell anybody will you?" He'd never in God's world 
tell her that. He's a judge, a hunter, a canny Jew. He'd never 

tell the girl 1 don't like this. I don't believe it. If you had 

three reels leading up to it ... but to walk into this room with 
all its finery and say, "111 tell you all my secrets because you 
have pretty legs." The last time he saw her he said, "Get out 
of my way, you little bitch." Now he sees her dressed up in 
a million dollars' worth of clothes, and says, "Oh, darling, let 
me tell you all my secrets." Why did you think I'd believe 

it? You don't To ask the secret of his strength here is just 

nuts. I know she's going to find out the secret of his strength. 
I've read the Bible. It's no great surprise that she's going to 
cut off his hair. You have to be clever enough to make me 
believe how cutting his hair off will destroy his strength. I 
gathered she meant she was going to get this guy to where 
he was in a state of imbecility over her and then do what 
women have been doing for ten thousand years. He betrays 
his people, his trust, everything in the world because of this 

woman The main way that women hurt men is to drain 

them dry. The way you have it, there's no possibility of his 
falling in love with this girl. He sees a good-looking dame and 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 237 

he's perfectly willing to go to bed with her. That's about all 
we have now. 

A cursory search in Hollywood will flush out at least a score 
of writers who have angrily stalked out of the bungalow, de- 
claring what DeMille needed was not a writer but a trained 
seal. His haggling with writers, singly or in sets, sometimes 
went on for as long as two years before a finished script was 
evolved. A great deal of personal anguish might have been 
averted on both sides had DeMiUe counseled from the start, 
"Look, I expect to beat your brains out until I get what I want. 
Please understand, nothing personal. We 11 try to do a job, my 
way?' A half-dozen capable, highly paid writers, among them 
Fred Frank and Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., knew and understood the 
system. Tactfully and wisely, they put up with it, though some- 
times, as both Frank and Lasky concede, at a dreadful cost to 
their nervous systems. 

Lasky, son of DeMille's early-day partner, smilingly recalls: 
"Every weekend he would go up to his ranch and fortify him- 
self for the following Monday. There he would mull over the 
sins of writers, how they degrade drama, frustrate common 
sense and multiply his own labors, and then in a fine wrath he 
would descend upon us on a Monday morning spitting little 
balls of cyanide." 

No one better than young Lasky, the veteran among DeMille 
writers, knew how to handle the boss, and in such a way as to 
reveal no hint of his strategy. "Otherwise, the roof would have 
caved in on me. DeMille could not tolerate anyone beating 
him at his own game of manipulating people and talents." 

Lasky learned a valuable secret early: "Keep the stuff down 
to earth." Nothing offended DeMille more than an imposing 
sophistry or a dashing metaphor, and it was a waste of time to 
try to slip one into the screenplay. 

238 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

Frank, a former New York advertising account executive, 
remembered his first story conference with DeMille. He says 
he had to struggle to keep a straight face when DeMille issued 
these instructions: 'Write it the way I lay it out and when you 
have finished, bring it back to me and 111 tell you why youVe 
done it all wrong." 

On one memorable occasion a topflight writer, in the midst 
of agonized efforts to evolve something pleasing to DeMille, 
felt pretty good about one of DeMille's penciled criticisms- 
What I've crossed out I dont like. What I haven t crossed out 
I am dissatisfied with. Usually, the writer said, his material 
bore such cryptic denunciations as: This is baloney; This isnt 
the way we talked about it; My God! or simply a huge NO. 

DeMille once tipped off a couple of newly hired hands on 
how to get along with him; he asked them to look up the 45th 
Psalm. They did. It read: My tongue is the pen of the ready 
writer. From this hint they soon developed the knack of listen- 
ing carefully during story conferences to DeMille's plot sugges- 
tions and bits of dialogue and later weaving them into a script. 
He told two other such laborers, "Your job is to please me. 
Nothing else on earth matters." 

DeMille took great pride in lines of dialogue which he 
thought up himself, though there is considerable evidence of 
struggles with writers intent on changing them. Some even 
tried to discard them. 

For a scene in Unconquered, DeMille suggested a line for 
the heroine "Nothing for nothing is given here/' 

It puzzled the writers, so they left it out of their draft of the 

DeMille put it back in, and when the writers rewrote the 
scene, the line was again omitted. Once more DeMille penciled 
it back in, then took the draft down to them personally and 
demanded that they explain why they were taking it out. 
They said they didn't understand it. 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 239 

DeMille grunted. "It's a perfectly marvelous line and it 
stays in." 

For another bit of dialogue he battled less successfully. It 
came in the lion hunt scene in Samson and Delilah. A snarling 
beast appears atop a rock ledge, whereupon Delilah hands 
Samson a spear. "I don't need that. He's only a young lion,* 
DeMille had Samson saying. The Bible itself refers to a young 
lion, but even so the writers contended the remark might pro- 
voke a laugh from the audience at a serious moment. 

Right after the picture's opening in New York word was 
flashed to the studio that audiences were laughing at Samson's 
remark. DeMille wouldn't budge. The line was staying in. 

The next day Barney Balaban, Paramount prexy, was on the 

"It's mining the scene," he said. 

DeMille wanted to know why they were laughing. 

"I don't know, but they're laughing." 

"It is a laugh of relief, Barney, relief from too much ex- 

"But the laugh is coming before he kills the lion." 

"Anticipated excitement, Barney," pursued DeMille. 

"I don't know. I don't think so," said Balaban. 

"I don't like to take it out, Barney." 

"It's ruining the scene, Cecil." 

DeMille finally gave in. Authentic Biblical fact was thrown 
for a loss by what he felt was indecent surrender to the dis- 
orderly minds of "big city audiences." 

Certain gems authored by him had long and successful 
careers. "By God, you have courage" was one of his favorites, 
hurled by the hero at many a DeMille heroine. Its first recorded 
use was baqk in 1930 in The Volga Boatman, with William 
(Hopalong Cassidy) Boyd toasting Elinor Fair. Twenty years 
later Victor Mature tosses the same lively rejoinder at Hedy 
Lamarr in the Samson story. Another that made a regular 
appearance was useful as a thrust at the hero's character. In 

240 Y0s, Mr. DeMille 

Unconquered, the heroine bitterly scores the hero, a profes- 
sional revolutionary, "You haven't blood in your veins . . . youVe 
gunpowder/' With equal wrath the heroine of Greatest Show on 
Earth charges the circus boss with having in his veins not blood, 
but sawdust. Cavett, noted for the fresh vigor of his style, made 
a few attempts to substitute another line having no reference 
to the circulatory system, but abandoned the effort when it was 
obvious he could not break DeMille's staunch affection for his 
own material 

During the writing of the Samson story, we trooped up to 
DeMille's for a hush-hush screening of the old Rudolph Valen- 
tino silent, Son of the Sheik The film's heorine, Yasmin, had the 
same trouble as Delilah, apparently; she was forced to hate 
the man she loved. Yasman lashes out at Valentino, "111 hate 
you with my dying breath." DeMille, an old hand at dramatizing 
classic passions, improved on the line quite a bit. He has 
Delilah hissing at Samson in the big love-through-hate scene, 
Til kiss you with my dying breath/' 

The Sheik himself, to prove his strength, bends a sword which 
the son straightens to show he is Papa's muscular equal. DeMille 
has Victor Mature as Samson bending and straightening a 
sword, in virtually the same motion. He found other things he 
liked, patterning Samson's wedding feast brawl after the silent's 
night club fight, the central figures in each case using a table as 
a shield and hurling lighted lamps at their opponents. 

Often without warning, DeMille would test writers for gen- 
eral attitude. 

A young man came to help on the story for Union Pacific. 
DeMille met him in the corridor, eyed him for a few moments, 
then said sharply: 

"Why do you hate the railroads?" 

The writer, a timid lad, was startled. 

"Mr. DeMille, I don't hate the railroads." 

"Then why did you come to work on this picture?" 

Union Pacific was a saga of violent opposition to westward 

"HIT SEX HARD!" 241 

development of that road, a facet of the plot which, in DeMille's 
view, could not be dramatized unless a writer felt some loathing 
for railroads as an institution. The writer indicated he would 
take a firm grip on his emotions and try to dredge up some 
serious hate against common carriers. 

Temperamentally, the more creative writers were unsuited 
for working with the hoss; they soon realized it and left. Such 
partings were often in the best of humor; others were edged 
with rancor or occasionally deep resentment. One writer, after 
six weeks of the DeMille system, left without word that he was 
quitting. He purchased some fifths of Scotch and for a week 
went into hiding from his family and friends. Later he told a 
fellow writer, "It will take me six months to get over the experi- 
ence with that r 

The obvious conclusion to be drawn from the outcome of a 
writing stint at DeMille's is not necessarily a safe one; DeMille's 
story formula, quarried and refined out of the experience of 
years, was peculiarly his own, and no force would cause him to 
change it. 

He felt that movies should tell their story without dialogue. 
"This is a pictorial art and to permit it to become a mere 
shadowgraph of the stage is simply throwing away our herit- 
age/' He was a creator in a different sphere; while writers 
were shaping subtle little definitions, DeMifle was figuratively 
atop Olympus devising ways to make worlds collide. He made 
sure he did not commit the mistake of a producer friend, who 
"lost a fortune because he became engrossed in creating a series 
of individually charming pictures and forgot to build up a clash 
of characters/* The emphasis on conflict "the only thing that 
will keep an audience awake" caused him to construct a plot 
in terms of action, often breaking down a story into what he 
called "pieces of action." A memo tacked on his wall all during 
the story-writing phase of Greatest Show set forth THE FIVE 
PIECES OF ACTION IN GSOE. In Samson and Delilah he envi- 
sioned the plot in the same way: 1. Brawl at wedding feast, 

242 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

2. Fight with Lion, 3. Fight with King's wrestler, 4. Jawbone 
Fight, 5. Falling Temple. Inevitably his credo of physical up- 
heaval made him a natural prey for the sweeping movement 
of Biblical history. He once exclaimed, "I can make a picture 
out of any fifty pages of the Bible," then in momentary self- 
abnegation, "except possibly the Book of Numbers." 

The plot, its mood and pace, were matters upon which he 
ruled. Suggestions were apt to be risky, at least until the writer 
had been given some idea of the sort of story whirling about in 
DeMille's mind. The story of Helen of Troy was once under 
serious consideration, later abandoned in favor of a remake of 
The Ten Commandments. At the time there was much secret 
speculation. How was DeMille going to approach the classic 
Trojan tale? We were not in doubt for long. At luncheon one 
day he set forth the format, which, incidentally, revealed a 
good deal of his formula with the old heroics: 

"We eliminate all the gods and goddesses in the Helen of 
Troy story. We think of the characters as people and not as 
something out of Homer's Iliad. Some have dandruff, some have 
toothaches, some are clean and intellectual, others are dirty and 
sinful. Some have B.O., others are lovely. They must talk like 
people yet not like a reporter giving an account of a Dodger- 
Giant ball game. We caught the spirit pretty well in Samson 
and Delilah. A man may address his god with thee and thou 
but not when he is addressing a human being. The thing is to 
give the speech a poetic quality and still not go down to the 
Dodger level/' 

Part VI 



PARAMOUNT paid something like $250,000 to the 
Ringling outfit for the use of its famous motto The Greatest 
Show on Earth, and its circus machinery. 

At that point the two assets were just about all DeMille had: 
equipment and a title. However, he was not worried. He was 
interested, not in a history of the circus, but rather in a stream- 
of -civilization plot with a land of Grand Hotel flavor. He con- 
ferred at great length with his researcher, Henry Noerdlinger, 
who went to the books in search of sawdust drama. The rest of 
the staff was alerted to the problem. 

With customary contempt for obstacles, he wasn't exercised 
at first by our failure to come up with circus plots. He had been 
without a story before and with his usual convulsive drive he 
had always churned around and obtained one. 

Now some preliminary churning was taking place, with little 
apparent result. More churning; still nothing. It was strange and 
a little startling. Then we came face to face with an astonishing 
discovery; there was very little in the way of circus fiction, but 
a great deal of non-fiction, such as memoirs and on-the-spot 

The preliminary work on ideas for a circus story was begun 
by a writer in late summer of 1949. In the following months his 
suffering proved to be heroic. He withstood constant ham- 
mering from DeMille, who daily reminded him that he was 
being paid $500 a week on a long-term basis to come up with 

something "acceptable to me/' 


246 Yes, Mr. DeM ilk 

Five months later a second writer was engaged. His salary 
was $750 weekly. At first the two writers worked together, then 
moved into separate quarters, taking time out only for those 
dreaded conferences with DeMille, whose patience was getting 
thinner by the minute. 

DeMille assigned Writer No. 2 to the task of checking what 
Writer No. 1 had written thus far toward a screenplay. He ad- 
vised DeMille that in his opinion it lacked a basis for a story, 
even though he was aware that DeMille had contributed much 
to the material thus far. Writer No. 2 was of an independent 
turn of mind, and we felt as the days wore on that he wasn't 
going to last much longer. 

One afternoon DeMille returned a few pages of copy to the 

"This stuff is ghastly. What does it mean?" the producer said 
with a grunt of derision. 

A seasoned staff man would have fended off the thrust with 
a smile, knowing the boss's weakness for this sort of hyperbole. 
Perhaps he really liked the material but wanted to hear the 
writer justify his story approach. 

Writer No. 2, no apostle of the way of life in the bungalow, 
put on his coat and departed. 

Writer No. 3 was brought in, at $300 a week, to bend his 
efforts to furthering the story line, while Writer No. 1 worked 
on the script itself. It was not usual to start writing a script 
when the story itself was incomplete. 

"We've been at it a year now and we still don't have a story,'* 
DeMille said grimly, one day. 

He remembered a circus classic, the silent movie Variety, 
which starred Emil Jammings. Its plot suited DeMille in every 
way; it was great drama. The boss waxed lyrical over the old 
silent movie, like a collector fondling a rare gem. 

For weeks we lived on a diet of Variety. If only we could hit 
upon something with the same power. In Variety, a husband 


is one-half of an aerialist team. He's the "catcher." The other 
half, the flyer, is having an affair with the catcher's wife. This 
was not prudent. If the catcher finds out, he is in a position to 
take care of the adulterous flyer. And simply: He can let the 
flyer fall and assert it was an accident. Occupational hazard! 

The husband does learn of the affair, and is sharply reminded 
of it every time he catches the flyer. 

"What a magnificent situation!" chortled DeMille, eyes gleam- 
ing. "You can feel the tension mounting with each flight through 
the air. Will he catch him, or let him fall? Remember, the guy 
is sleeping with his wife and the unwritten law is on his side." 

In great torment, the husband makes his choice. He is a 
trooper. The circus comes first. He accomplishes the killing 
without artifice. He walks into the flyer's tent and pumps several 
bullets into the blackguard's hide as he cringes in a corner. 

DeMille's antics during this period were not of a kind to 
endear him to his writers. He flayed them in conference, then 
openly at staff luncheons. There were moments when he seemed 
close to panic. Costs were piling up. More than $50,000 had 
gone into writers* salaries. There were thick stacks of material, 
conference notes, bits of plots and miscellaneous ideas but 
nothing drawn together into dramatic sequence. 

One day DeMille thought of Jody. 

Jody is his grandson, eight years old at the time. As a rule 
Jody sat next to his famous grandfather when the family viewed 
movies at the home, and the youngster's remarks in the course 
of the evening were carefully noted. DeMille regarded them as 
valuable clues to the success or failure of a particular film. 

"When Jody says, 'That's the bad man, Grandfather/ or 
'That's the good man,' I know that all is well with the story." 
said DeMille. "But if Jody has to ask who the bad man or who 

248 Ites, Mr. DeMitte 

the good man is, then I know it is not a good story and probably 
will have trouble at the box office." 

He confronted his writers. 

"I want one of you to write the circus story in language that 
little Jody can understand/' 

Writer No. 3 was singled out for this undertaking and ordered 
to work alone in an adjoining office. He produced what became 
known as "the Jody version," seventeen typewritten pages, 
single spaced, with roughly 6,000 words. It was an excellent 
effort and contributed greatly to the final story, largely by 
tying together loose ends. 

It began on an appropriate note: "Once upon a time there 
was a circus," then proceeds, "and the boss of this circus is a 
strong, tough young fellow called Brad Gable. Brad lives and 
breathes circus . , . he eats and drinks circus. Brad is in love 
with Holly, the flyer, but Brad would never tell Holly that he 
loves her. In fact, he hardly admits it to himself. He knows it 
isn't good for the boss of a circus to be in love with a performer. 
When that happens he gets to worrying about her because she 
might fall and be hurt. She becomes more important to him 
than the circus, which shouldn't be. . . r 

This evaluation of human life vs. circus was not pursued 
further, but the Jody version developed a kind of lif e-and-death 
struggle a la Variety, but without infidelity. The struggle is 
between Betty Hutton as Holly, and Cornel Wilde as Sebastian, 
both in the roles of flyers. She goads him into extraordinary 
feats, figuring that a flyer who has the honor of the center ring 
ought to be capable of any derring-do. Determined to outshine 
her, Sebastian goes too far. He is seriously hurt attempting a 
triple flip through a suspended loop. Now the circus needs a 
center-ring performer, but the scheming Holly doesn't get the 
call. Like the hero of Variety, DeMille's circus boss is all circus, 
so he tells the girl he loves that she can't have the center spot; 
the circus comes first. 

Even with the "]ody version" DeMille made it clear he was 

<f 99 


far from appeased. He had a story line of sorts but "we should 
have had it nine months ago. We have a few bones. We've got 
to breathe life into this carcass/' 

At this point Writers Nos. 1 and 3 were in our employ, No. 2 
having quietly resigned. 

Still champing, DeMille brought in No. 4. His pay: $1,500 a 
week. He was assigned the task of polishing the material written 
by Writer No. 1. 

Here DeMille announced that from then on he and a staff 
assistant would constitute a two-man team to act as trouble 
shooters. This meant the team would keep the writers on the 
right track, at the same time contributing plot suggestions and 

Meanwhile the story conferences continued. 

The staff assistant shuttled between the writers and DeMille, 
making known the boss's attitude toward a piece of work and 
seeing to it that DeMille's ideas were not only incorporated 
into the script, but retained there precisely in the manner out- 
lined by him, 

One day DeMille heard about a young writer reputed to 
have a flair for originality. After talking with him, the boss 
offered the fledgling $1,500 for one week's work and, should 
the results please him, a minimum of $20,000 for an eight-week 

At the end of the week the young man, Writer No. 5, was 
informed his services were no longer required. 

That winter, 1950, came the sixth writer. At $1,000 a week 
he was put to work polishing the material turned over to him 
by Writer No. 4, who was polishing Writer No. 1's material. 
No. 6 worked at home and came to the studio for the staff 
luncheons, now devoted largely to story problems. 

During this period the non-writing staff members felt reason- 
ably secure. For the time being at least they enjoyed a reprieve 

250 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

from criticism, and could approach the luncheon table with 
stomachs supple and minds at ease. The boss had his hands too 
full with writing problems to take more than a casual interest 
in the doings of his other functionaries. 

Our table, an oblong affair, was next to a wall in the Para- 
mount studio cafe. DeMille sat in an arm chair, back to the 
wall, in deference to a maxim, probably apocryphal, that in 
Hollywood one should have his rear protected and if possible 
both flanks. Always on DeMille's right sat Berenice Mosk, jot- 
ting down the boss's comments which might require action. 
Often a guest was at his left. If there was no guest, a production 
assistant occupied that chair. The rest, usually about five in 
number, filled in around the table. 

Immediately upon the boss's taking his place he was served 
a generous bowl of potato chips, which he nibbled on during 
the half-hour or more prior to our being served. This was of 
course a gesture to eminence and while nothing prevented the 
staff from ordering a few chips of its own, no one ever did. 
Though it may be put down as an affirmation of our fallen 
nature, this pre-luncheon orgy sat askew on our disposition, not 
improved by the lateness of the hour at which DeMille pre- 
ferred to lunch. The crunch, crunch, accompanied by digs, often 
not sly, at the hungry aides for work done or left undone, created 
a barrier to the healthy flow of the staffs gastric juices, which 
internists staunchly contend is a requirement of proper di- 

The weekly cost for writers at this point was $3,300. After 
almost a year and a half, the script was only two-fifths finished. 
The date set for the start of filming was only eight weeks away. 
DeMille announced he expected the remainder of the script 
within that time. 

A seventh man was brought in, at $500 a week, to act as 
co-ordinator, advisor and general overseer of writers. 


In the days that followed, the bungalow's timbers trembled. 
Never had it witnessed such toil and turmoil, weighing and 
discarding, joy expectant and hopes dashed, withering sarcasm 
and open denunciation. One of the writers, harried but nobly 
unbowed, described the arrangement in crisp military terms: 
Tm the 'point' man. The chap next door is the first wave. The 
one across the hall is the supporting troops and the one in 
the farther office is the reserves. C.B. and his aides are at the 
end of the corridor with muskets ready for any signs of de- 

Once, DeMille scanned twelve pages which he had received 
from Writers Nos. 1, 4 and 6. He ordered them to be reduced 
to six pages. The writers performed the surgery and a few days 
later DeMille demanded to know what had happened to cer- 
tain lines. "The story is not complete without them," he said. 
They had made the mistake of cutting lines of dialogue thought 
up by the boss. 

By November 1950, only a little polishing remained to be 
done on the script. The writing cost had reached a total of 

One scene of Greatest Show was squarely within the DeMille 
idiom. The giant circus, breaking camp and rolling off in its 
25-car private train to start another season, filled him with 
exciting thoughts. It promised crowds, action, the helter-skelter 
dash of tardy performers climbing aboard at the last moment. 
The departure scene could also be used to play on the romantic 
strings of the plot Holly with flirtatious eyes for Sebastian, 
the debonair flyer; Brad the boss remaining strong and aloof; 
Klaus the elephant trainer resenting the way Angel looks at 

DeMille went over these crisscrossing relationships endlessly, 

252 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

trying to get the writers to squeeze every ounce of drama out of 

DeMille: What is the effect on Brad? What effect on Angel? 
We have to create a situation between all 5, 6 and 7 char- 
acters. Holly and Sebastian have challenged each other- 
Sebastian has an interest in Holly. He's taken an interesting 
look at her. Angel has said, "Well, here's my chance, I guess/' 
looking over at Brad. And Brad is busy as hell getting the 
circus off, and looks around and sees Sebastian either take 
her hand or 'Can't I help you into the car?' And Angel sees 

him and you get the little smile on Angel's face You have 

Klaus getting his elephants into a freight car, and saying, 
'Come, Angel, get away from that thing. What you smile at? 
Get your stuff and get in here.' And Angel going by with 
some wisecrack to Brad, Well, I see your high flyer's started. 
Your devil on the ground. . . / Some wonderful wisecrack she 

Writer: I haven't played the reactions on Brad and Angel. 

DeMille: We fill the departure of the circus with wonderful 
stuff. Some little clown who's left something, some midget 
falls and someone picks him up. During all this hullabaloo the 
priest is blessing the train somebody coming by and crossing 
themselves. Someone says, 'Look out! Your elephant's got 
his trunk out!' Well, he's starting to travel, isn't he?' The 
departure of the train-if one of the snakes got loose and goes 
up a telephone pole but we don't want to use snakes. All 
those people. The fat woman? How about her? How the hell 
does she get through the door? Does she have to go into the 
elephant car? The living skeleton does he help the fat lady? 
Is there a romance between them? The bearded lady is ter- 
rified of everything that I know. She's the most timid. She 
has beautiful feet and legs and lovely breasts, well dressed, a 
lovely feminine person with a terrific black beard. A mouse 
goes by and she nearly climbs to ... All those things converge 


on this exit What do bearded ladies carry? She should be 

knitting all the time, a little bit of a sweater, everybody stops 
and says, 'Oh?' She looks up at them and smiles with this big 

bearded smile The thin man is probably terrifically brave. 

. . . But the Bearded Lady has to be the most feminine, lovely 
thing you've got, with black satin shoes and pretty feet. 
Sebastian stops and sees these lovely feet and you see the 
look come in his eyes and he starts up and he's just about to 
make a crack camera going up with him and you see his 
expression suddenly change, this face with this muff! Say her 
name is Eloise. She should always be crocheting or tatting 
no, needlepoint. That's very feminine. All queens did it. She 
should be very attractive. Only she's got a beard! Other 
women protect their hair in the rain. The Bearded Lady 
protects the beard. Holds her two hands over it. 

Writer: The double doors on the car have been opened for the 
Fat Lady to get in. Two or three of them helping her in. 
Could we go right from the loading of the elephants to the 
loading of the Fat Lady? 

DeMille: Sure. The Fat Lady should have the same charac- 

Writer: She collects romantic novels. 

At this point, the writer working on the Jody version comes 
in, and asks about the aerial contest between Holly and Sebas- 

Jody Writer: If Holly wins the first round, it looks like the duel 
is over. I think she has to lose the first round. 

DeMille: I don't care who wins or loses. She does a wonderful 
something and the audience applauds and Sebastian ap- 
plauds. Then Sebastian does 18 hand spins. Then Holly gets 
ready to do another and the Ringmaster blows his whistle. 
'Come on down! You should have been down five minutes 
ago!' Your point about Holly being put in the center ring 

254 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

is no good. What's the next part of the duel? Who wins that? 
The next time Sebastian does the same thing and he wins, and 
the audience says hurrah! and Holly does nineteen spins on 
one foot and the audience gasps. What are they saying to 
each other? What are the things that make an audience 
interested in the scene? What are the reactions of the people 
below? The audience doesn't know what it's about. To hold 
your motion picture audience's interest in the duel is what 
is difficult to write. You see that happen there. Holly does 
something, you see Sebastian say 'Jesus!' and applaud, and 
then he does fifty flips. I don't think it makes any difference 
who wins the first round. If you get over they're fighting a 
duel, you're damned good. What's going on elsewhere? 
What's the act-the feature? What's going on underneath? 

Writer: I haven't shown the circus yet. 

DeMille: I wonder whether your audience is interested, be- 
cause they think Holly and Sebastian are in a Hollywood 
studio turning over on invisible wire. That's what they'll 
think, unless you show the circus. 

Before shooting could start on the circus story, a way had 
to be found to light up the Big Top with enough amperage for 
the hungry color cameras. At enormous cost, clusters of small 
"cold lamps'* were devised, and hung on the circus poles. They 
gave the cameras enough light and also permitted them to shoot 
upward at the aerialists an angle that was impossible under 
the old system of Klieg lights manned from catwalks above the 
sets. Unglamorous though it was, the innovation marked a 
brilliant technical milestone for Paramount and Technicolor 
engineers, whose highly sensitive new film made possible for 
the first time filming of action under the circus tent. 

DeMille had to gauge the Ringling circus's production time 
against his own, arrange players' commitments to dovetail with 
the circus schedule. These two items alone constituted a small 


portion of the total agony of detail that staff and technical aides 
checked up to the boss. 

Around Hollywood the private hoots of dilettantes were 
being heard again, rising from the old anti-DeMille crowd. In 
the past they had said every DeMille picture was an old story 
with a new dress, that he hid the similarity behind mass action 
splashed across a huge canvass. When DeMille made three 
versions of The Squaw Man, the last in 1931, his sidewalk 
arbiters unleashed a chorus of "I told you so's." DeMille laughed 
at his critics then, just as he lashed out against Paramount 
executives who would balk at releasing anew one of his early 
successes. "You don't throw away a Renoir after youVe seen 
it once," was his usual logic on this point. "You want to see 
a masterpiece time and again." 

With most writers, as with DeMille, a half dozen basic con- 
cepts have served for plots, a form of literary inbreeding openly 
practiced in Hollywood throughout its prosperous days. 

DeMille hewed to a distinction between what he called 
"narrative" and "dramatic situation." "Narrative" could be a 
string of interesting little episodes, but the latter was something 
considerably more vital. His idea of a perfect situation a 
woman contracts to destroy a man, then falls madly in love 
with him came to full flower in the Samson story, but it eluded 
him in the circus story. It eluded him in the awful succession 
of weeks that filled the corridor of the bungalow with cajolery 
and threats. And when it was all over, the plot situation was 
far below his hopes. 

The circus project had one uniform effect it welded all his 

This time, they were convinced, the old man was going to 
trip over his tripod. One producer, joining these prophets of 
doom, repeated a remark once hurled at DeMille by W. C. 

256 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

Fields: "Some day the is going to be crushed under 

one of his own epics/* 

The time was at hand! Hollywood had never made an honest- 
to-goodness circus picture under the Big Top itself with circus 

Technically, it had posed fantastic problems. Dramatically, 
it would be the sheerest folly; circus stunts like flying and the 
"iron jaw" routine were usually not to be found in any Holly- 
wood actor's bag of tricks. Thus, it would require too many 
phony shots "long" shots of performers substituting for the 

So-called circus pictures like Chad Hanna (with Henry 
Fonda) and Laugh, Clown, Laugh (Lon Chaney) had merit 
because they accomplished what they set out to do within nar- 
row limits, but in no real degree did they mirror circus life. 
This was even true of that granddaddy of circus classics, Variety, 
with Emil Jannings, and such lesser efforts as Halfway to 
Heaven (Jean Arthur, Buddy Rogers), The Mighty Barnum 
(Wallace Beery, Virginia Bruce), and Sally of the Sawdust 
(Carol Dempster, W. C. Fields). 

Other producers, sensitive to public taste, also had rummaged 
around in literary sources only to discover there was precious 
little to choose from in the way of circus fiction. Like DeMille, 
they did not want to photograph a sentimental memoir. They 
saw what he saw in the circus "A fighting machine, a thing 
struggling against accident, flood and storm" but up to this 
point they had refused or were unable to pay the price a true- 
life circus drama would exact. 

As the following months proved, the diagnostic slurs of 
critics had not taken into account DeMille's most potent strain, 
his fighting spirit. 


THE sign of the fighting showman went spectacularly 
aloft in the late summer of 1949. DeMille figured there was only 
one way to learn about circuses and that was to join one on tour. 
With a writer, secretary and publicist, he picked up the Ringling 
Brothers* circus in Milwaukee and took the northern swing, 
digging his nose in the sawdust, soaking up circus customs and 
living with the performers. The merger struck quite a number 
of fancies. In town after town the news that DeMille was with 
the circus brought out capacity crowds, delighted over what 
struck them as a first-rate combination DeMille and Barnum, 
two high priests of showmanship. The circus's advance men 
made much capital of the double billing. 

The spectators had expected to see a tailored executive, per- 
haps enthroned in a special box surrounded by servitors. Their 
gaze met instead a stalking figure in breeches, boots and open 
shirt, peering through a camera "finder" at Bengal tigers within 
a foot of striking range. He went around and through the per- 
formers, scaling rope ladders to aerialist platforms, often out- 
distancing his staff, a determined Watson on the search for 
story clues for his circus picture. 

The rapt attention of thousands were fixed on the scampering 
DeMille at the precise moment aerialists were engaged in 
death-defying stunts. 

DeMille, possessed of a seasoned affection for the masses, 
was joyfully engaged in a bit of scene stealing! 

On the third day out he decided he wasn't getting up high 
enough for the kind of camera angles he had in mind. 


258 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

He went to Art Concello, then a big spoke in the circus or- 
ganization, asked him to rig a bucket seat and pulley. 

"I want to see how things look up there/* DeMille said, 
pointing to the dizzy top of the huge tent. 

"A birthday caper, eh?" Concello grinned uneasily. 

It was August 9; DeMille's 68th birthday was the 12th. 

Concello dismissed the request, concluding it was made in 
jest. What DeMille was asking was to be sent up forty feet 
higher than the highest aerialist platform 

The next day the citizens of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, witnessed 
an uncheduled act. They gazed up at a tiny figure in a swaying 
bucket seat, high against the blue ceiling of the Big Top. Con- 
cello kept a nervous watch below. "I was thinking of what 
might happen." The spectators cheered, and the circus per- 
formers themselves joined in cheering a man with a flair for 
their special brand of razzle-dazzle, and the energy of a puma. 

DeMille came down, mopping his brow and grinning. "Let 
me give you a piece of advice," he told Concello. "It's 101 
degrees up there and you need air in this tent. You can get it by 
opening the slit in the top of the tent." Each year the Ringling 
circus bought a Big Top. The next one purchased had an im- 
provement; perforations to admit air. 

His pace did not slacken even as the trip wore on. Only a 
few of us knew the extent of his fatigue when the day was over. 
On more than one night, at dinner, he slipped into a sort of 
semiconsciousness. His private secretary Gladys Rosson held 
up his head to keep it from striking the dishes. When he awoke 
he went right on with his meal as if nothing had happened. 
With five or six hours of sleep he was set to spring back into 

This was the first time the circus had been stalked by a man 
of DeMille's vigor. It was no stranger to stress, whether from 
man or the elements, which may account in some measure why 
the folks of the 3-ring circus, aerialists and roustabouts alike, 


found themselves drawn to him, and why they soon began 
calling him "the fourth ring." 

Nor had the prophets of doom reckoned with DeMflle's 
talent for inducing stars to risk their high-priced necks for their 
art, or at least their art as portrayed by the dashing producer 
in puttees. When Betty Button elected to try her hand at flying, 
DeMille promptly and gleefully assigned as instructors two 
"catchers" and two of the best women aerialists in the field, 
Lynn Couch and Antoinette Concello of the once-famed Flying 

The vivacious blond star went into two months of training 
on Paramount Sound Stage 3, generously hung with rigs and 
pendulous trapeze bars like stalactites in Carlsbad Caverns. 
Betty's daring gymnastics startled her trainers; almost daily 
they entreated DeMille for help to rein in his star performer 
before something serious happened. Long before she took her 
turn before the camera, with remarkable grace in the key flying 
scenes, Betty was the talk of the Paramount lot. Understandably, 
the press received, if not with contempt, at least with vast 
cynicism the reports that the star would do her own flying in 
the picture. Her aerial accomplishments did not make the 
columns until she staged a special exhibition, convincing the 
doubters that the glowing rumors were not spawned by zealous 

Gloria Grahame, too, caught the fever in her elephant-girl 
role. She consented to a piece of bravado that might have turned 
easily into disaster had the animal been startled as he lowered 
the bulky paw to the tip of Gloria's nose. DeMille merely sug- 
gested the scene, left it entirely to Gloria to make up her mind; 
he would not place loyalty above possible disfigurement 

DeMille took the affair in stride. He had affectionate memo- 
ries of similar demonstrations. Years ago, Gloria Swanson per- 
mitted him to arrange a scene in which a lion placed a paw with 
uncut claws on her bare back. On that occasion DeMille, pistol 

260 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

in hand, shouted encouragement from a high platform nearby 
while a trainer goaded the lion with flicks of a long whip. 

Miss Swanson's father watching the scene shook his fist in 
helpless rage at DeMille. Miss Swanson never budged a muscle 
while the lion roared at his heckler. 

A half hour later the delayed reaction hit her. She broke 
down and burst into DeMille's office, crying hysterically. 

"What's the matter, young fellow?" he asked. He always 
addressed her by that nickname. 

"I-I'm tired!" she bawled. "I can't work tomorrow!" 

DeMille smiled. "I've been waiting for this. At last you've 
shown you're a woman, not an automaton. Here, take anything 
you like/' 

He pulled out a tray of jewelry from one of the most exclusive 
shops in Los Angeles. 

"I picked out a gold-mesh evening purse with an emerald 
clasp," Miss Swanson relates, "and immediately felt much 

Miss Swanson in later years reflected upon it as "the greatest 
thrill" of her film career, comparing it with another type of 
experience, the thrill she received "when they first put my baby 
in my arms." DeMille was pleased to note the comparison; 
there was no doubt as to which event he considered the more 

For her feat of flying, DeMille gave Betty Button one of his 
"medals," a memorial half-dollar, "for spunk above and beyond 
the call of duty," and another to Gloria Grahame for her game- 
ness with the elephants. 

The coin was one of a small number minted in 1937 in ob- 
servance of the 350th anniversary of Walter Raleigh's colony on 
Roanoke Island. DeMille bought 2,000 of the issue. Selectively, 

"fi" AS IN BARNUM 261 

he handed "DeMille Medals" to the pluckier of his players who 
did not flinch from the hazards of a DeMille script. Among the 
donees was Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the permission to 
film the story of Navy Commander Corydon Wassell, World 
War II hero of Java. 

DeMille lived to rue the gesture to the President, breaking 
sharply with the administration's labor-union policies. His irri- 
tation cropped out unexpectedly in the direction of the Presi- 
dent's dog, Fala, during the making of Unconquered. In one 
scene Gary Cooper pats a small wire-haired pooch with the 
remark, "Hi! fella." DeMille ordered it struck from the script. 
"Someone," he said, "might think he said, 'Hi! Fala!' " 

DeMille went about the making of The Greatest Show on 
Earth with his usual joie de vivre. He led a troupe of some 200 
players and crewmen to the Ringling winter training quarters 
at Sarasota, Florida, for a 2-month location that convinced the 
local gentry that here was a new and formidable force in circus 
life. The situation had in it the elements of a first-class struggle- 
two vigorous societies, Hollywood and the circus, with widely 
divergent habits and mode of living. Circus folks are of a 
suspicious bent, their pride admittedly not the product of 
Cadillacs, 6-figure salaries or servants-in-waiting. When the 
DeMille entourage moved in, the toilers under the Big Top were 
agreeably surprised. The stars and the rest scampered about in 
jeans and slacks, indistinguishable from the rank-and-file of the 
circus. Before departing Hollywood, DeMille had issued a 
strong edict: "Don't put on airs. We are joining their way of 
life," The warning proved unnecessary; in no time at all we all 
were caught up in the magic of the spangled world. 

The Sarasota location was two weeks old when DeMille took 
stock of our progress. The results were alarming a great deal 
of activity but little finished footage to show for it. 

"This thing is costing us $20,000 a day," he told his top aides. 
"We'll be here ten years at this pace." DeMille shared a per- 
centage of the production costs with Paramount. At this point 

262 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

he was on the books for 10 per cent of 2 million dollars plus 
5 per cent of three-quarters of a million, or a total in excess of 

Fresh efforts were directed at the mysterious slowdown in 
the next few days. Ringling personnel were at our disposal but 
the two groups weren't meshing. Precious hours were wasted 
in waiting for a workman or piece of equipment. DeMille was 
growing desperate. "Maybe I should give them a million dollars 
and get the hell out of here/* 

Roy Burns, DeMille's durable business manager of many 
years, struck at the problem realistically. "We can't expect these 
circus people to pitch in with the same vigor as our own crew- 
men. We're down here on their grounds, taking over the winter 
quarters. I think we ought to pass around a few gratuities to 
show how much we really appreciate their co-operation." 

The per diem cost of the location was astronomical; DeMille 
could well afford to adopt a beneficient attitude. Good-will 
offerings were made, $1,000 here, $5,000 there. 

To a skilled key man, Burns handed a check for $25,000. 
There was nothing untoward about the offer or its acceptance; 
it would be worth the price to have the Sarasota stay shortened 
a few days by effort beyond what might be reasonably expected. 

The following evening this key individual appeared in De- 
Mille's suite at the Ringling hotel. He handed the producer the 
check for $25,000, saying it might not be wise to keep the money 
as it might be construed in the wrong light. The check was torn 
up in the visitor's presence, and he left. 

DeMille, his face cast in worry, turned to Burns. 

"Roy, we're in trouble," 

"But we saved $25,000!" 

DeMille shook his head. "I cannot agree. That man turned 
his back on $25,000. No one does that. Take my word for it, 
we're in trouble." 

DeMille kept a sharp eye on the man, expecting some devilish 


plot. He insisted that a mind that could reject such a sum of 
money could be capable of enormous evil. 

Nothing dastardly took place, and when we moved out of 
Sarasota, still unpunctured by some occult treachery, the per- 
plexed DeMille marked the occasion as historic. Hollywood had 
always evaluated people in terms of dollars. Here it had failed 
for the first time in memory. 

He had called Samson * a story of the power of prayer." 

On the sets, on tour, the "tag" became a motto. For such tags 
and labels DeMille possessed a rare sensitivity. He had a way 
of reaching right into the heart of a situation and coming up 
with a phrase that seemed to expose the story's inner meaning. 

The Greatest Show on Earth was, to most of us, an actionful 
circus picture, but to DeMille it was an institution of co-opera- 
tive creeds and races "a sort of United Nations that works." 
At every turn he pelted audiences and press people with the 

This, and every other picture of his, had to be sold on a theme, 
and we knew that his "United Nations under the Big Top" idea, 
while a nice editorial thought, was not dramatic enough. De- 
Mille knew it, too, and almost daily let it be known he was 
expecting one of us to come up with another key theme for 
Greatest Show. With the hundreds of production details we 
knew he was grappling with at the moment, this problem would 
remain with him, a small nagging voice, until he or someone 
unearthed the answer that satisfied him. 

'Why did I make this circus picture?" he kept asking. Almost 
daily two or three replies flowed from our typewriters into 
his office. This went on for quite some time. Abruptly one day 
we were advised by memo that the boss himself had the answer. 
"Mr. DeMille has the idea which will keynote the entire pub- 

264 Ifes, Mr. DeMille 

licity and exploitation campaign He decided to make The 

Greatest Show on Earth because it is a HAPPY PICTUKE He 

made it to lift hundreds of millions of people out of the worries 
and tensions that beset the world today hanging over their 
heads like the sword of Damocles This tinsel and spun- 
candy world will make the farmer forget his crops, the house- 
wife forget her dwindling budget, the head of the house forget 

the headlines As Lincoln said, when the wounded soldiers 

paid more attention to Barnum than they did to him, Daughter 
is the best medicine!'. . " 

It seemed a first-rate approach, hitched shrewdly to the 
post-World War II miseries and restlessness! We knew that in 
time we would be called upon to speak out on the merits of the 
happiness theme one of those dangerous situations that called 
for advance thinking. "Yessing" the old man could, in this situa- 
tion, evoke some new tensions. The staff was not sure the 
theme was right; it had none of the characteristics of DeMille's 
past movies, steeped in thunder and foul play. We remembered 
the sign he had posted in the writers' conference room: WHAT 
is THE CONFLICT IN THIS STORY? We had heard Frank Cavett, 
that gentlest of writers, smilingly repeat a comment uttered by 
his ten-year-old boy: "My dad is working for Cecil B. Demolish." 

The happiness theme had not so much a false ring as an 
unlikely one, a pretty concept that sat askew on the brow of the 
maker of spectacles. 

The showdown did not come in the usual way. Some time 
later a full-page advertisement carrying DeMille's signature 
was placed in Variety. It was the first public expression on the 
picture, and read: My compliments to those stars and players 
who took great personal risks on the high trapeze, in the ele- 
phant acts, in the train-wreck scenes, and with the gorillas and 
other fangk animals while making THE GREATEST SHOW ON 

More than a half a million dollars was spent on the film's 
advertising and promotion, but not a cent on the happiness 


theme! The staff felt it had been navigated safely past a dan- 
gerous shoal. 

The New York office had eleven months in which to plan 
the premieres and general release of Samson and Delilah. For 
The Greatest Show on Earth, time was all too short; no more 
than six, possibly seven, months. 

The picture had not yet been unveiled to Paramount's New 
York brass a key moment in our lives. Nevertheless, certain 
policy decisions had to be made, and to subject them to high- 
level thinking a conference was set up with the Paramount 

Top Sales was there. As also Top Publicity, Top Advertising, 
Top Distribution, Next-to-Last Word, and Final Word, the 
last two being occupants of the highest Paramount echelon. 
Their appearances at conferences of this kind, though infre- 
quent, left imprints on the course of future action that were 
deep and sacrosanct. 

"May and June are consistently bad months for business," 
said Next to Last Word. He was more active than Final Word 
and took the intiative in deciding lesser-type details. "The third 
of July would be about right to release G.S.O.E." 

Mr. DeMille expressed concern that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 
was about to release Quo Vadis, also a spectacle. Would they 
hurt each other? The others had no such concern. 

"They are in contrast to each other," said Final Word. "Big 
contrast. There is no choice between them. Quo Vadis is big 
spectacle, a big picture but it hasn't the heart of G.S.O.E. They 
are not alike. You don't compare them." 

"We would release G.S.O.E. whenever we are ready," chipped 
in Next-to-Last Word, putting the issue to rest. Quo Vadis would 
not be in opposition to it." 

Top Sales said we would not need months to cultivate the 
public, that there had been a lot of pre-selling done already. 

"We've done two years of pre-selling," said Top Publicity, 

266 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

Mr. DeMille was still worried about Quo Vadis. 

"Where you have two spectacles/' he asked, "would yo 
rather be the first to release, or follow the other?" 

Top Distribution said there was room for fifty good ones an 

Top Sales agreed. "Twentieth Century-Fox is benefiting wit 
Bathsheba from our handling of Samson and Delilah. But wit 
Quo Vadis and G.S.O.E. you have two Hope diamonds." 

Top Publicity did not believe we would get much by pre 
viewing the picture in Sarasota. It could cost too much to brinj 
in the press and it would be too much of a local project t< 
benefit the picture nationwide. 

"If we are hasty about these decisions we may lose," Toj 
Sales put in, "We want to get started on G.S.O.E. but we havf 
to see the picture and we have to decide what is best and ther 
do it." 

Next-to-Last Word felt there was a distinction, "With Sam- 
son and Delilah you had to be convinced of what you had. With 
G.S.O.E, you don't have to be convinced. We are thinking 
right saturating the country and getting a complete fast 

"And we don't need any prestige engagements," said Mr. 
DeMille quickly. "And we don't underestimate the circus fans 
of America. They are a very large and influential group . , . they 
know their stuff. They can't be taken lightly." 

"Should our terms be 50-50 from the first dollar, and sell to 
any exhibitor who is willing to pay 50 per cent from the first 

Top Distribution was happy to see this matter come up. On 
Samson and Delilah the exhibitor charge remained unfixed for 
nearly four months. 

"A 50 per cent deal might look cheap to them after what 
they're going to pay for Quo Vadis" said Next-to-Last Word 


Mr. DeMille thought it would be wonderful not to have to 
raise admission prices. 

"Our thinking is along that line," said Top Sales. 

Top Publicity pointed out that American in Paris was coming 
out at advanced prices and a percentage basis, Streetcar Named 
Desire was asking $1.30, Quo Vadis was anybody's guess, 
G.S.O.E. would look awfully attractive at 50-50 and no ad- 
vanced admission prices. 

Provided, DeMille spoke up, the exhibitor does not think 
the picture is bad. "He'd have to believe that we were offering 
him a very attractive deal. I think the way to handle it is for 
me to make the announcement, in an interview, that I object 
to any raise in admission prices, that this picture was made for 
every man, woman and child in the world, that it is a picture 
they will take to their hearts and I might even say it is a 
good piece of merchandise." 

Top Publicity picked up the thought. 

"If a newspaper has a big story on Page One it doesn't raise 
its price to seven cents, so why ask the public to pay more to 
see a great piece of merchandise in the form of a picture?" 
then adding, "We would give it to Louella Parsons or some 
other important outlet perhaps two weeks before our opening 
sales date, to make it part oi the campaign." 

The wording on circus sketches prepared by New York refers 
to "their spirit, sweat and supreme courage." 

Mr. DeMille thinks sweat is not a good word; it is offensive to 
him. This would be checked. 

Top Publicity suggests huge posters be held aloft during all 
future circus performances with wording to the effect This 
picture soon to be shown on every screen. 

Mr. DeMille objects. 

He feels there will be a kick-back from circus spectators who 
have just paid $4 each to get into the circus and are hit with 
an advertisement to see the same show in a movie. 

"A circus atmosphere must be created-in dry goods stores 

268 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

and theaters/' says Top Publicity with feeling. '"Theater usher 
in clown suits, colored sawdust in the lobbies, spun candy, bal 
loons, penants, whips, hats 

" on New Year's Eve, at 11:55 P.M., from every windov 

on the lower floors of the Paramount Building and from office 
on both sides of Broadway from 40th to 49th streets we wil 
release balloons with G.S.O.E. on them-START THE NEW 

Top Publicity feels Mr. DeMille should be the principal 
speaker at the convention of the Variety Club in Las Vegas. The 
Club would like to have him. 

Mr. DeMille hesitates. Top Publicity is given permission to 
have the invitation issued to Mr. DeMille. Mr. DeMille will 
await committing himself TAitil he learns who is going to receive 
the Club's annual Humanitarian Award, as Mr. DeMille wishes 
to make sure that he would be happy to appear on the same 

Now . . . let's see ... Top Publicity and Top Publicity assist- 
ants have given a lot of thought to it ... a traveling ambassador 
visiting towns and cities before G.S.O.E. is released. 

Dorothy Lamour did such a fine job as M.C. on Place in the 
Sun and on a Crosby picture We want to send her out to 
forty cities as "Special Assistant to Cecil B. DeMille in Charge 
of Public Relations on The Greatest Show on Earth." 

Top Publicity feels strongly as to the wisdom of this ar- 

"She would have a fully prepared and fully rehearsed script 
and our idea is for her to tell America what she saw with her 
own eyes. She could bring in things like Jimmy Stewart who, 
with a wife seriously ill, still went on, a real Pagliacci act. Like 
her taking her own children to the Sarasota location, what 
it meant to them, their reactions." 

Top Publicity thinks Miss Lamour would be terrific on this 
type of picture. 


"She knows all the answers and is very quick on a come- 
back/' Top Publicity confides. 

Further, were we aware that Omar Rainey of the Cleveland 
press "who has not been a friend of ours on every occasion- 
is a circus fan from way back." 

Mr. DeMille nods approvingly. 

". . . And Rainey is trying to sell articles to magazines like 
Saturday Evening Post, Life and the New Yorker?" 

Mr. DeMille stiffens at the sound of these names. He is 
biting his finger tips, the mannerism escaping those who do not 
have access to his confidential moments. The sudden crisis 
might have dissolved by itself, except that Top Publicity 
presses on. 

"We're in contact with a writer who has a firm commitment 
from Saturday Evening Post for a six-part article on DeMille 
and also a book commitment to do either a biography of 
DeMille, or help DeMille with an autobiography. This writer 
has had two books published in the last two years." 

The crimson flush creeping up his neck, Mr. DeMille enumer- 
ates the reasons why he thinks it a waste of time to give the 
man the time he would need two years of undivided time to 
do a book properly. 

"In the end," DeMille concludes, "the six-part commitment 
would end up as a one-part commitment, or not be published 
at all" 

Top Publicity, surging on, suggests they were ripe for De- 
Mille on the cover of Time magazine. 

"And a profile," he adds, brightly. 

Time magazine! It was like a thousand wounds being re- 
opened, a harsh cry redolent of the whiplash of the first review 
printed by the old Life magazine on February 10, 1921, under 
the custody of Robert E. Sherwood, who was not yet a name 
on Broadway. 

Three times a year DeMille sends forth a new picture con- 

270 es, Mr. DeMille 

taining a batch of multimillionaires who are just a little multier 
than the last, Critic Sherwood wrote in the first review for the 
new Silent Drama department, sounding an anti-DeMille note 
which he replayed down through the years, until it was picked 
up with orchestral fervor by the New Yorker magazine. 

If only Sherwood and the New Yorker had been for DeMille; 
there were moments when the boss seemed to admire the 
beauty and volume of their literary assaults. It was not to be. 
A few years before his death the New Yorker plunged another 
rhetorical dagger into DeMille in its Samson and Delilah re- 

Perhaps DeMille's survival is due to the fact that he decided 
in his movie nonage to ally himself with God as his co-maker 
and to get his major scripts from the Bible, which he has always 
handled with the proprietary air of a gentleman fondling old 
love letters ... he has never taken a step backward ... he has 
never taken a step forward, either 

The seeds which Top Publicity was attempting to sow on 
behalf of Time fell on spectacularly barren ground Mr. 
DeMille feels that in his opinion Time is bent on being destruc- 
tive, and he cannot believe it now wants to be constructive. 
He is willing to let Time treat G.S.O.E. in its regular Cinema 

The conference is not going well at this point. Mention is 
made of a Hollywood premiere for G.S.O.E., at which Mr. 
DeMille begins biting his finger tips again. 

"Well premiere in the Chinese Theater on the very day 
the theater opened twenty-five years ago with The King of 
Kings. The stars are all in Hollywood and they re easy to get. 
We have 400 correspondents around, too, and the cost certainly 
would not be excessive. We are very enthusiastic about doing 


Mr. DeMille does not share this enthusiasm. "There are 
people in Hollywood who are not partial to me and my pic- 
ture/' he says in a firm but polite retreat from what has been 
to him one of life's oldest problems. 

Top Publicity goes quickly into the matter of buying pro- 

"If we have an August 1 release date, and a half-dozen pre- 
release engagements in late July, we will want to start in May 
with several key locations in twenty or twenty-five cities and 
towns where we will post, and we really mean post, twenty-four 
sheets. Our thinking is along the line of what you'd expect a 
circus to come in and do. In June and July we'd post 2,500 or 
3,000 billboards from coast to coast, on important highways, 
going into towns and cities. Is Paramount to pay the usual 50 
cents for every dollar spent by the exhibitor? On Samson and 
Delilah Paramount^ share of this came to $427,000. Of course 
we will go into the national magazines just as strongly as with 
S. & D. We figure the cost on G.S.O.E. will be about the same. 
We want four-color stuff and good drawings for the national 
mags. One page in four colors runs about $200,000. Maybe 
$230,000. The first week of 1952 we are going to run a 7-day 
teaser on the front page of the Hollywood Reporter announc- 

line, eh?" 


ONE of the more difficult periods for the staff invari- 
ably developed during negotiations with the Hays (later Breen) 
office and the Catholic Legion of Decency on matters of pro- 
The boss liked zest in his plots, peppering the dialogue with 

272 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

tingling aphrodisia. The censors in his life were almost as for- 
midable as the critics; he had little use for either. 

On Greatest Show it appeared for a while we might get off 
with few censor problems. The Breen office had objected to a 
remark by a girl performer "I never was thrown out of bed 
like that before!"-as being "unacceptably sex-suggestive/ 7 We 
could Have kept the line in the script but New York warned 
it might be ordered out by state boards, and it would be much 
less expensive to delete it at this point. 

Eight lines of dialogue were censored and subsequently re- 
moved from the script. Fortunately for the writers, all had been 
contributed by Mr. DeMille. 

Nor did the Breen office cotton to scenes in the girls' ward- 
robe room. We were told the Breen office "naturally assumes that 
where any of the girls are changing their clothes or performing 
other functions of their toilet, such as washing, etc., they are 
not to be clad in only shorts or bras unless it clearly appears 
that these are rehearsal scenes, and not underwear. If the wear- 
ing of underwear is desired, then the girls should also have on 
dressing gowns or negligees/' 

A remark by Betty Hutton to Jimmy Stewart, as the clown 
"Maybe you killed someone because you loved her too much" 
-was ordered changed; it implied a justification of euthanasia, 
or mercy killing. 

Further, there might be repercussions by the Legion of De- 
cency, we were advised by the Breen office. The Catholic 
Church's opposition to euthanasia was well known to all of us. 
We were also aware of the boss's bland indifference to censors 
while in the process of preparing a script; he preferred to fight 
those battles later, should they arise. 

The Legion of Decency quickly spotted "the insinuation of 
euthanasia," as Father Thomas F. Little, an executive of the 
Legion, put it in his letter to Mr. DeMille. 

Father Little's letter dropped like a bomb in our midst. It 


contained an almost sweeping denunciation of Mr. DeMiHe's 
happy picture, made, as we so often held it forth, for every man, 
woman and child in the world. 

The boss read the letter, once, twice, three times, then con- 
cluded that Father Little and the Legion had lost their sacer- 
dotal buttons. "I used to feel that someday I would be a Catho- 
lic," he remarked at luncheon, ^ut the Catholics will have to 
get rid of at least three priests before I join up-Dan Lord, 
Bishop Buddy down there in San Diego and Father Little/' 

DeMille, more perhaps than anyone, realized the importance 
of a favorable rating from the Legion of Decency. What would 
his old critics say? DeMille can't make even a circus picture 
without sex; that sprightly, innocent world basted with sugges- 
tive juices I And a show especially for kids! 

The Little letter, dated December 11, 1951, stated in part: 

. . . We realize what the circus means to the youth of this 
country in every hamlet, village and town. It is assuredly an 
integral part of our American culture ... as a youth and priest 
we have enjoyed [its] drama and entertainment. . . 

... we wish to express our objection to several morally offen- 
sive elements in the film. 

. . . while the circus is both adolescent and adult entertain- 
ment it is primarily and essentially a product for the youth of 
this country and the world. It is regrettable and unfortunate 
that you deemed it necessary to use offensive material. 

The objectionable dialogue, according to the letter, centered 
around the character of Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), "repeated 
time and time again without necessity to establish his char- 
acter/' Since the letter did not set forth any samples, we 
hurried to the script for possible sources of the irritation. It was 
possible Little had eyed the moonlight haystack scene. Here, 
Sebastian says to Holly (Betty Button), "You are beautiful, 
exciting, like wine. You know women are like wine. Some are 
like sweet Sauterne, some are warm like Burgundy * He 

274 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

classifies her as "champagne-sparkling, tantalizing. You make 
a man's head spin/' admitting, "Oh, I have wandered a little- 
but how else could I appreciate what I have found now?" 

In the scene Sebastian, skillful on the ground as in the air, 
draws the girl near, murmuring, "My heart beats fast, like yours. 
That's the magic of it you love me." 

There are other danger spots in the script, such as the con- 
tention between Holly and Angel (Gloria Grahame) for the 
hand of Sebastian. 


Sebastian! I don't care if you break him up for firewood. He 
asked for it, playing around with you. But Brad is on the level 

Brad hasn't got time for love. 


111 take Brad the way he is. 

That is, if you're his type. 


Who you callin* a type! Maybe I have been over the course a 
few too many times, but I've got a heart under this costume and 
there's only room in it for one guy. You've busted him apart, and 
I'm gonna pick up the pieces. He'll never miss you, Sugar. I've 
given him more than you ever could. 

Maybe so, youVe had plenty of experience. 

Father Little's letter was hard for DeMille to accept. Just a 
short time before, he had shown the picture to a small group, 
and afterwards a producer had remarked, "More entertainment 
than I have ever seen in two hours." Later, recounting the 
evening to us, DeMille was inclined to reinterpret the pro- 


ducer's remark. "What he was really trying to tell me was that 
it was a great picture because of its spiritual power." 

The climate in the bungalow grew more oppressive each day 
for those of us who, being Catholics, remained silent on the 
issues. DeMille, furious with Father Little, became more articu- 
late, bringing the entire framework of Catholicism into the 
range of his observations. 

At one point he likened the power of the Catholic Church 
to world communism, then eyed the Catholics on his staff for 
some sign of reaction. They managed a smile, a kind of gentle, 
understanding smile that recognized the boss's anger and that 
actually he did not really mean half of what he was saying. 

"Father Little's attitude is purely political," he fumed. "One 
of those men who have the power to say 'Thou Shalt Not'!" 

He said his daughter had told him of her plan to send her 
son, Jody, to a Catholic school, but he had advised her to think 
a little before doing that~"Then I told her all about Father 

The emotional blood-letting did not diminish. For the next 
week a member of the staff worked on what DeMille said would 
be a strong reply to the Legion of Decency. The letter might 
even be made public as part of an attack on the Legion, should 
the controversy compel his taking so drastic a course. He felt 
deep within, however, that the Legion surely would withdraw 
from its position. 

The first draft of the reply was very strong and was toned 
down, but the final letter left little doubt that DeMille was 
heatedly inviting a head-on clash with the national censoring 
body whose recommendations come to the attention of the 
majority of the million and a quarter Catholics in the United 

Mr. DeMiUe's letter charged Father Little with being "the 
first and only person to raise an objection to the picture on 
moral grounds." He denied Sebastian's character was offensive, 
and '1 cannot by any stretch of the imagination conceive that 

276 yes, Mr. DeMille 

the soul of any human being, young or old, could be corrupted 
by his dialogue/* 
The letter goes on to say: 

I conceived him [Sebastian] as a light, airy, flirtatious char- 
acter, full of wit and fancy. I am sorry if you personally take 
offense to the fact there are in the world men like Sebastian 
and that people in the world discuss their foibles and failings. 
I might join you in wishing that all men were saints. I could 
not agree with you, however, if you would deny to any form of 
art ... the right to portray the world as it is, so long as such 
portrayal does not bring about that corruption of human souls 
which the Legion of Decency properly and vigilantly guards 

Mr. DeMille then quotes Cardinal Newman, one of the 
Church's most distinguished converts: "It is a contradiction in 
terms to attempt a sinless Literature of sinful men . . . you will 
seek for it in vain . . . take things as they are, not as you could 
wish them/' 

Nor did he agree that Miss Grahame's costuming was "sug- 
gestive," inasmuch as it was the same worn by the regular 
Ringling performers. 

Quoting St. Paul, he adds: 

All things are clean to the clean. I think you will agree that 
what one person finds "suggestive" may be perfectly innocent 
to another I suppose that there are a few individuals so 
morbidly prurient that looking at someone dressed in a circus 
costume might constitute a moral danger for them. Such unfor- 
tunate persons should go to see a psychiatrist rather than The 
Greatest Show on Earth I am sure you will not accuse the 
children or the youth of America of having minds like that. 

After a lengthy rebuttal of Little's claim of euthanasia, De- 
Mille continues: 

I will not bandy threats with you Since you will not, I 
think, lay claim to infallibility I ask you to give equally serious 

"fi" AS IN BARNITM 277 

consideration to my reasons for thinking you have sincerely 
erred in this instance. 

Before mailing the letter, DeMille called us in, one at a time. 
Most of us confessed later to reading the letter with shock, 
though taking care not to show it at the time. DeMille asked 
what we thought of it. One said he felt there might be another 
safer and more productive way to handle the matter than by 
the letter perhaps an off-the-record meeting with Father Little, 
but this suggestion was angrily brushed aside. The boss was in 
no mood for tactical negotiation; the epicmaker was on the 
march, storming the bastilles of censorship. 

The letter was sent, and our position was clear: we would 
change nothing as a result of the Legion's request. 

As was feared, the reply from Father Little was firm and 
unequivocal. He did not take kindly to what he had read. He 
repeated his concern, "shared by the personnel of the Legion," 
that the picture by its very nature would appeal particularly to 
youth, still judging it to be "potentially harmful to the moral 
well-being of the young." 

The danger in respect to Sebastian's "unsavory" character was 
felt to be even greater because 'Tie is both a leading and sym- 
pathetic character," 

And may we note, my dear Mr. DeMille, that besides the 
Sebastian character there were other items in your film which 
we judge to be rightfully considered as "suggestive." 

. . . We recall to mind, for instance, one of your own pictures 
entitled The Sign of the Cross and particularly to a dance 
sequence that was included. We would remark in passing that 
this was one of several pictures by various producers that led 
directly to the formation of the National Legion of Decency. 

278 ?es, Mr. DeMille 

Fatter Little tallied a quote of his own, from St. Augustine, 
"Hate the sin and love the sinner." As far as Miss Grahame's 
"suggestive" costume was concerned, he pointed out that a 
spectator at a regular circus performance does not get the same 
"intimate impression" of costuming that is provided the movie- 
goer by Mr, DeMille's camera close-ups! 

The Legion of Decency gave the picture a "B" rating. There 
was only one lower rating "condemned/* reserved for films that 
violated the canons of marriage or morality. Most frequent of 
such offenders are carnal tid-bits often tagged as "art films." 

The "B" rating was bad enough. It meant that DeMille's 
happy circus picture, The Greatest Show on Earth, was 
"morally objectionable in part for all persons." 

The boss was dumf ounded. 

"It's a lot of hogwash. Morally objectionable to boys and 

girls! This is a picture with clowns, elephants, fliers in the air, 
horseback riders " 

He shook his head wearily. 

"With those Catholics a little euthanasia goes a long way," 
he said. 

The two Catholic members of the staff were ready to con- 
cede that whatever aspirations the Catholic Church may have 
had toward DeMille as a convert were now dashed, irrevocably. 

The hurt caused by Faff aire Legion was salved to some extent 
in a totally unexpected manner, and from the strangest of 
sources the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 
donor of the annual "Oscars." 

No Oscar had ever been voted a DeMille picture. The 
Academy always passed the elder showman by, with marvelous 


unconcern for his half century in the craft as well as for the 
public's preference that reflected itself in his dazzling record 
of boxoffice championships. 

Three honors went to Greatest Show on the night of March 
19, 1953, the occasion also observing the silver anniversary of 
the Academy. To Mr. DeMille went the Thalberg Award for 
eminence in the profession, which, coupled with the "best 
picture" and "best screenplay" awards, made it a memorable 
evening for the bungalow. The boss was moved by the gesture; 
how deeply it cannot be said. Perhaps it had come too late; too 
often he was passed by, too little had been said when the 
occasion called for much to be said. 

A numbing chill swept his critics. 

The award to the picture was not expected. Many who had 
cast their ballot for the year's top grosser were quick to make 
it known that it was a mere courtesy "after all the old man has 
been around a long time and has done a lot of good." 

However DeMille may have felt inwardly, he viewed rebuffs 
from colleagues with devilish amusement. Profit and the masses 
were on his side and he saw no reason to change his belief in 
the ultimate judgment of the people. He liked to think that 
that judgment was the most intelligent, too. 


THE sex-happy 1920's had sharply widened the 
powers of censorship, the natural hand maiden of public in- 
dignation. The screen was crowded with dancing mothers, 
speakeasies, petting parties, flappers, cake eaters. 

Censors lurked behind every corner, moving in swiftly to 
deliver sudden and savage attacks. Just when Hollywood felt it 
had proved that wolf-whistling and the ardent embrace were 

280 Je$, Mr. DeMilk 

inevitable products of man's fallen nature, along came the state 
censor a hydra-headed monster spewing purity and morality. 

DeMille took note of the new menace. He was at the peak 
of his "bathroom period" in 1923 when he issued a pre-Christ- 
mas statement to the press, damning censorship as "the most 
pernicious influence in America today." 

He didn't feel it was Hollywood's duty to protect the public 
from awful truths like the existence of evil women. "The censor's 
mind is the eye of the needle and the great story minds of the 
world are the camels trying to pass through." He was suffi- 
ciently wroth over the issue to add: "This civilization is riding 
to a fall just as Rome did." 

For DeMille, the wars with censors went back to Joan the 
Woman, his first epic, and provided him with the first in a 
large repertory of border incidents to illustrate the low quality 
of the censor mentality. Joan the Woman was tabbed by critics 
and patrons alike as worthy of a place with the finest half- 
dozen films of the era. It had another distinguishing feature. It 
was a silent yet it starred the most renowned dramatic 
soprano of her day, Geraldine Farrar. Goldwyn and Lasky had 
hired the Metropolitan Opera beauty for a kingly sum to appear 
in not one but three silent pictures. All racked up splendid 
grosses, leaving a distinct impression among observers that the 
era was so golden that even errors in judgment paid off. 

DeMille took Joan the Woman to New York for a showing 
to censors and ministers. 

The screening over, a minister said he did not see anything 
offensive in the picture. 

A woman censor disagreed. 

"Yes, there is one thing that has to come out/' she said. "It's 
the line where Joan says, 'My God, my God, why hast thou for- 
saken me.* " 

DeMille asked the woman whether she knew who had first 
spoken that line. 


"It doesn't make any difference who spoke it. It means that 
God would forsake someone and it has to come out" 

One of the ministers intervened. 

"My dear lady," he said "I wonder whether you are aware 
that those words were said by Jesus on the cross!" 

As a matter of fact, those words of Jesus are a quotation of 
the first line of Psalm 21, which is a prophecy concerning His 
own passion, thus placing the woman censor in a not too im- 
plausible position. 

There were times when DeMille found the edicts of censor- 
ship tiresome, refusing to pause in his labors even long enough 
to challenge them. But hotly contested points drew him and 
the staff into lengthy dispute. 

Some years back Jean Arthur did a portrayal of the swash- 
buckling frontier gal, Calamity Jane, in one of the best of the 
DeMille horse operas, "The Plainsman." 

In the course of a scene DeMille has Calamity reviling a 
female rival 

Calamity calls her a "mopsy." 

The Hays office, checking the script prior to filming, sent 
word to DeMille that he couldn't use the word "mopsy" because 
it meant "prostitute." 

"Mopsy" did not mean that at all, DeMille retorted, and set 
his office to work searching for definitions. The staff came up 
with a few "term of fondness applied to a little girl," "a pet 
appellation for a lap dog." But there was evidence it also could 
be applied to a "slattern." 

It appeared DeMille was losing the battle of dictionaries, 
when his researcher chanced upon a popular child's book en- 
titled Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter. It was all about 
four rabbits of unquestioned virtue scampering in the woods. 
DeMille was ecstatic. He asked the Hays office to designate 
which rabbit was of ill repute. Hays was not willing to put the 
brand of shame on this Mopsy, and withdrew his objection. 

282 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

Calamity Jane caused other trouble. The script called for a 
scene in which she puts her arms around Hickok's neck, hold- 
ing him tight, then pulls his head down with a sudden effort 
and kisses him full on the lips. He pulls her arms down and 
wipes his lips with the back of his free hand as Calamity ex- 
claims, "You four-flushin' mule! You ain't wipin' it off you're 
rabbin* it in!" 

The Hays office labeled the shot objectionable because 
Hickok's reaction to Calamity's kiss "tends to build up the flavor 
of her being a prostitute." 

The censors thought it detected other signs of promiscuity in 
Jane, such as Hickok's remark, "She didn't care much who got 
her scalp, she didn't care about anything," and "You weren't so 
touchy last night," a remark uttered by a vagrant. 

Once more the Hays office backed away upon DeMille's con- 
tention that Wild Bill Hickok was not a ladies' man and he 
would wipe off any woman s kiss, no matter what the condition 
of her morals. 

One of DeMille's more challenging encounters with censors 
took place with Carmen back in 1915, when prints of the 
picture were sent to all state censor boards then in existence 
twenty-seven in all. 

The results seriously impaired DeMille's happiness for 
months, "Each of the twenty-seven censors found something 
objectionable, but no two censors objected to the same thing. 
They asked me to make cuts in twenty-seven different scenes!" 

There was concerted eyebrow lifting in the Hays office over 
the Story of Dr. Wassell script. 

Hays would not approve a GI on Java chasing a Javanese 
girl because it indicated "illicit sex." 

A reference to "chop suey" was ordered out; it might offend 
the Chinese. 

DeMille was advised to handle carefully the scenes of Wassell 
"bathing, toweling and putting on his pants/' 

Also, "the location of the wound in the woman's leg should 


not be used suggestively in connection with Johnny's remark 
'Can I help?'" 

DeMille had an untamed weakness for injecting little sur- 
prises in his movies, often causing both innocent observers and 
censors to fall into exasperating traps. He numbered among his 
choice tidbits such seeming blunders as Roman soldiers shoot- 
ing dice, Joan of Arc using a safety pin, Scottish Highlanders in 
kilts lifting the siege of Ft. Pitt. 

In a transport of secret joy, he sent to Hungary for a replica 
of the famous bent crown for the player who portrayed King 
Nicholas in The Crusades. As he predicted he received in- 
dignant letters calling attention to, as one writer put it, "the old 
second-hand crown with the bent cross." 

H. B. Warner literally felt the weight of this fondness for 
authenticity. Portraying the Christ in The King of Kings he 
was called upon to carry a cross weighing 160 pounds, just a 
few pounds lighter than the original. 

DeMille was rhapsodic over one revelation by Dr. Corydon 
M. Wassell. In the film a brown-skinned character named 
Tremartini does a native dance which smacked more of Harlem 
than Java, where the customs are largely pre-Moslem. DeMille 
set his critics straight. The character was authentic, being an 
exact counterpart of a Javanese nurse. As to her outlandish hula- 
hula dance, Dr. Wassell was the authority: "Java girls do a sexy 
hula as a result of having seen Betty Grable pictures." 

DeMille was unhappy over the chronic refusal of censors and 
critics to take his pictures at face value. What one saw in a 
DeMille picture one could believe, a motto of the DeMille 
office which the public never quite raised to the dignity of a 
maxim. Through the years he had demonstrated an academic 
fervor far beyond the needs of the moment, spending thousands 
of dollars tracking down these bits of historical lore. He would 
complain moodily, "I spend $100,000 on research but along 
comes a critic who has just read a paragraph out of some 

284 yes, Mr. DeMille 

encyclopedia and which the encyclopedia probably paid $10 
for. Will the critic say I am right? No, he'll turn his back on 
my $100,000 worth of research and say, 'That's Hollywood for 

Shakily we would commit a picture to the care of the censors 
and critics. When the reaction was hostile, DeMille was able to 
suppress a homicidal desire to strike back. 

Probably the boss's longest stretch of silent suffering started 
in 1921 and continued for fifteen years. And no doubt longer, 
had not the magazine gone out of circulation. 

The culprit was Robert E. Sherwood, playwright and presi- 
dential speech writer, film critic of the old Life. Sherwood's 
monographs on DeMille were chock full of witticisms, his humor 
edged with telling observations. Once installed as reviewer, 
Sherwood lost no time in getting to his target. His first swipe at 
DeMille was a backhanded compliment on Forbidden Fruit. 

For once DeMille has had the sense to subordinate the sex 
appeal and pay a little attention to the story, Sherwood wrote. 

The following week Sherwood, dipping his pen in tabasco, 
turned to The Affairs of Anatol, based on the Arthur Schnitzler 

The review struck up an imaginary conversation between 
Sherwood and a man seated next to him at a showing of the 

But who is that?" asked my friend in a startled tone, as the 
picture began. 

"That is Wallace Reid, who is playing the role of Anatol, a 
young, 100 per cent American millionaire." 


"Hush" I cautioned him. "You are drowning out the organ." 

"Whose bare leg is that?" he queried next. 


"It belongs to Gloria Swanson (Mrs. Anatol). In a moment 
the rest of her will appear." 

It did.... 

"Listen, my friend," said my inquisitor, querulously, "I saw 
The Affairs of Anatol on the stage, but I remember no such 
occurrences as these. Who is that rustic youth and who is his 

I smiled patronizingly. 

"That rustic youth' is Monte Blue, after whom the Blue 
Ridge Mountains and the Blue Grass State were named. The 
lady with him is Agnes Ayres, who is supposed to be his wife. 
She has an affair with Anatol." 

"I remember nothing of the kind in the play," he murmured. 

Followed a period of silence. 

Again he spoke, in a voice that was hoarse and barely audible. 

"Who in heaven's name is this?" 

The fellow's ignorance appalled me. 

"That, my man, is Bebe Daniels. She is now making an assigna- 
tion with Anatol; that is, she is making an assignation in every 
state except Pennsylvania." 

"But the play," he gulped. 

"Oh, forget tibe play everybody else has." 

"But the public will they countenance this monstrosity?" 

"You bet they will! What is more, they'll pay good money to 
countenance it, and the local exhibitors will wax richer and 

"Then there must be something terribly wrong with the public/' 

"There is." . . 

He rolled a glazed eye in my direction. 

Tm Schnitzler," he gasped. *Tm the man who is supposed to 
have written that play" 

He sank in a limp heap. 

The picture remained on Broadway for weeks and each week 
Sherwood kept his readers advised with paragraphic tidbits. 
"(The picture) should be enormously popular, especially with 
those who think Schnitzler is a cheese." (It was enormously 
popular, earning better than a million dollars over its cost.) 

Merrily, Sherwood continued his clubbing of DeMille's films. 

286 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

Early in January, 1922, he went after FooTs Paradise, con- 
tending that Leonard Merrick's story had been "mutilated, de- 
formed, truncated, disfigured and beaten to a pulp . . . offensive 
to the eye, to the aesthetic sense and frequently to the digestive 
organ A sordid, distasteful theme." 

But The Ten Commandments, released two years later, 
rocked Sherwood back on his heels; it was a good picture. 

Sherwood admitted it, but soon was gaily back at the old 
stand. "It is a source of genuine regret to me that I must return 
to my old policy of roasting Cecil DeMille's pictures. Some 
time ago I met him face to face, and he seemed like such a nice 

These continued attacks were one of the most sorrowful as- 
pects of DeMille's life and in view of his success the most 
puzzling. He had established early that he was on the side of 
the common people, or possibly that they were on his side, 
Having pleased vast numbers of filmgoers, he found himself in 
the trying position of facing the critics with this dastardly 
achievement. He often took die view the conflict was between 
the critics and the masses. 'What the critics are telling the world 
is that if the people had any sense they wouldn't enjoy a 
DeMille picture/' 

It was our practice to search newspaper reviews of DeMille 
films for comments stating in effect that, despite its low quality, 
the picture would probably make a huge profit. At least a half 
dozen such verdicts were rendered by major critics on every 
DeMille hit. On one picture the boss anticipated the usual criti- 
cal reaction, grinning as he remarked to a visitor, "This picture 
stinks but it probably will be enjoyed by millions." Some key 
reviewers said just that, in one way or another, and the Samson 
and Delilah picture went on to post impressive boxoffice re- 
turns. A quarter of a century ago the old New York City Post 
tagged DeMille's Volga Boatman as a "bore , . . silly and vulgar," 
adding, "It is almost certain to make a barrel of money." 

The New Yorfc Times assessed Samson and Delilah as a 


"movie for DeMillions if there ever was one," and went on to 
say "it has more chariots, more temples, more peacock plumes, 
more beards and more sex than ever before." 

In time DeMille inverted the precept; when a writer who had 
helped on the script told him the picture would receive good 
notices from the critics, DeMille drew back in feigned shock. 

"Just a minute!" he cried, Tve got a lot of money tied up in 
this thing." 

"The critics say my pictures are full of hokum. Well, what is 
hokum? It is pure and simple emotion. Christ making the blind 
girl see, I suppose, is hokum. They say my pictures are spec- 
tacles. Was the crucifixion a spectacle? That had a lot of 
people. Was Guadalcanal a spectacle? There were a few in that 
one, too/' 

This philosophic note crept into his thinking as he became 
hardened to criticism of this type. He was impressed with the 
possibility he may have inherited this tribulation. A few years 
back he showed Frank Freeman, Paramount studio head, a re- 
view written by a Chicago critic. Freeman read it and said 
he was puzzled, that he did not recall DeMille having made a 
picture of that title. DeMille was entranced. It wasn't a review 
of one of his pictures but of a play written by his father. "They 
treated him just the way they're treating me, and his plays were 
always successful/' 

However he may have felt deep inside, the money-making 
potential of his pictures was a soothing balm. The hostile arrows 
of critics broke harmlessly on the armor pkte of golden box- 
office returns; and not even the critics cared to contest his skill 
for giving the public what it liked. Of all the bolts hurled by 

288 Yes, Mr. DeMitte 

newspaper literati and the slick magazine gentry, only those 
of the New Yorker cracked DeMille's apparent indifference. In 
1949 the magazine ridiculed DeMille, and riddled Samson and 

An assistant approached DeMille with a copy of the New 
Yorker review, and was questioning its logic when DeMille 
turned on the aide with sudden fury. 

"Do you think for a moment the New Yorker crowd cares 
whether Samson and Delilah is good or bad! This is a political 
attack against me, against my beliefs! It has nothing to do with 
the picture/' 

The ashen-faced assistant nodded, as if comprehending the 
reasonableness of the view, and quickly withdrew. 

Something of the real depth of this feeling came to the surface 
with a gesture uncommon to Hollywood. The New Yorker was 
sharply critical of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's new version of Quo 
Vadis, produced under Mervyn Leroy. DeMille, who had not 
seen the picture, called Freeman and urged that the motion 
picture industry unite against the magazine. 

"Mervyn Leroy is young and can't take this sort of thing," 
he cried. "I've been through it and I'm used to it." 

DeMille was not one to let a conviction lie fallow, especially 
when it was backed up by studio associates. Support of the 
boss's views too often had little meaning, in view of the fact 
that it was hard not to agree with him. 

He set out his belief that there was a world conspiracy 
attacking him through his pictures. The declaration won ap- 
proving nods. From then on, staff members were sent on mis- 
sions of considerable secrecy, usually to ascertain the political 
stripe of an offending critic. 

During this troubled period Bosley Crowther made a visit 
to the DeMille office. 

The noted film critic of The New York Times had already 
rendered a lukewarm verdict on Samson and Delilah. 


Crowther, a White Plains conservative with a dazzling grasp 
of the classics, had no inkling of what awaited him. 

DeMille began by saying that he seemed to see a parallel in 
Samson's destruction and the present state of the world. 

"The free world has a Samson that is pulling the temple 
down on its head," the producer pointed out, adding that the 
menace was Communism. 

Crowther smiled goodnaturedly. 

DeMille observed that the opposition to Samson and Delilah 
appeared to him to be entirely from Communist sources. 

"I can't agree with you that only Reds disliked the picture," 
Crowther said quickly, smiling. '"Perhaps I didn't like it" 

The interview ended on a decidedly frigid note and as soon 
as Crowther was gone DeMille called in one of his staff. 

"The New Jork Times review says Samson and Delilah is in 
bad taste," he said. 

The aide frowned. 

"You seem a little uncertain. It does say the picture is in bad 
taste, doesn't it?" DeMille persisted. 

"Well, I don't seem to recall it. . . ." 

DeMille brushed the remark aside. 

"I think you will find that other papers around the world 
pick up what the Times says Australia, Paris, Belgium, London. 
I have noticed that the foreign reviews say Samson and Delilah 
is in bad taste. They are a Communist ring and if you can check 
the foreign critics I know that's what you'll find. It's a Red 
band circling the earth, and this is one of the ways they're 
fighting me." 

DeMille instructed the assistant to read every Samson and 
Delilah review in this country and abroad, then check the poli- 
tics of those critics who refer in any manner to the picture 
being in bad taste. 

For weeks the assistant pored over scores of reviews and 
was unable to uncover that specific reference in The New Yorfc 
Times or in any other American paper. 

290 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

There were, however, a few in foreign publications. In Paris, 
o, a De GauUist extreme rightist paper, stated: 

DeMille has at the same time surpassed the Himalaya as a 
champion of bad taste. 

The conservative Hufvudstradstrladet, in Helsinki, described 
the film as "a Biblical luxury rigged out more expensively than 
tastefully," while Stockholm's Dagens Nyheter called it "a 
strongly colored mausoleum of DeMille's vitality and vulgar- 
ity/' The highly conservative London Daily Telegraph pointed 
to "moments of beauty," and scenes "with a deal of bad taste/' 

As far as the assistant was concerned, the project was pro- 
ceeding badly. 

He came into the office of a fellow assistant one afternoon. 

"I could be in a lot of trouble," he said. 


"The boss is trying to prove he's being chased by Communists 
who have infiltrated the movie sections of newpapers . . ." 


"Well, I don't seem to be able to prove it. Anyway I'm writing 
my report today and tomorrow all hell will probably break 
loose/' He was operating as best he could on the no-matter-what- 
you-think, your-troubles-are-over-if-you-please-DeMille philos- 
ophy, and on this basis he was in some peril. 

By the bungalow's standards, his report was courageous. He 
advised the boss that he was "unable to sense any world-wide 
subversive pattern in the bad reviews." 

He pointed out that in several of the large Eastern dailies, 
"the critics leave no doubt that they consider sitting through 
one of your pictures a major ordeal for one so sensitive to art 
values as a critic. These writers are a very small minority, how- 
ever, and ninety per cent of the criticisms run from inspired to 
enthusiastic. I might mention that even the two Communist 
papers, Daily People's World and Daily Worker, gave you 


slightly better treatment than a few of the art-for-art's-sake 

The New Yorker never relented. A few days before DeMille's 
death on January 21, 1959, the magazine published a 2-sentence 
review of a remake, The Buccaneer, concluding: 

If that much manpower had been as conspicuously wasted in 
Russia as it is here, all hands would now be in Siberia. 


SHARING with him the tensions of one crisis after 
another, we felt it was part of DeMille's nature to be in a state 
of constant motion. He kept up a staggering pace and never 
seemed to be happier than when chaffing under some mighty 

The one great battle he lost was the one he wanted to win 
most the famous dollar controversy, longest and bitterest of 
his life. 

It began in the fall of 1944. At that time he was a member 
of a radio union, the American Federation of Radio Artists, and 
for eight years had been master of ceremonies of the Lux Radio 
Theater at a salary of $98,000 a year. 

While others were responsible for the actual production of 
the Lux shows, including the selection of stories and actors; 
DeMille was able to invest them with the aura of his special 
showmanship. He was a fitting ornament for a showcase fea- 
turing the royalty of Hollywood. Thirty million persons listened 
to the show each week, its Crossley rating rising high above 
that of any then current dramatic offering. 

On August 16, 1944, the program's even, happy tenor came 
to an abrupt end. 

292 Jes y Mr. DeMille 

DeMille and the other 3,000 members received a letter from 
the Los Angeles local of the American Federation of Radio 
Artists. It asked for $1 to help finance the union's campaign to 
fight a proposed state amendment called Proposition 12. 

If the voters approved Proposition 12 in the coming election, 
the open shop would go into effect in California, and thereafter 
membership in a union would no longer be a requisite of 

AFRA, therefore, was bending every effort toward its defeat. 
The letter requested "immediate payment of the assessment," 
warning that "failure to pay will result in suspension/' 

It was not a good time for a letter couched in strong terms. 
For months there had been conflict among movie unions over 
jurisdictional issues, leading to violence in the streets. Not far 
from the bungalow, around the corner at the big RKO lot, 
pickets carrying bludgeons had clashed with workers. 

DeMille took the Union letter to a few close associates. He 
told them how he felt; he favored Proposition 12 and did not 
want to contribute his money not a dollar or a cent toward its 
defeat. It was the sort of talk studio executives liked to hear at 
the time; they were weary of the warring locals at their gates, 
and viewed the prospect of making motion pictures without 
multicraft complications with a pleasure almost too great to 
bear* The success of Proposition 12 held the promise of great 

Y. Frank Freeman, studio boss, was known not to have sym- 
pathetic leanings toward the present brand of union leadership. 
DeMille also sought the counsel of the late Bill Jeffers. Once 
a rail worker, Jeffers' rise to the presidency of the Union Pacific 
had in it all the elements of a Horatio Alger plot, of the sort 
calculated to produce extravagantly pro-union sentiments. In 
this instance it visibly did not. Both Jeffers and Freeman urged 
DeMille to make a stand for individual freedom and, in De- 
Mille's words, "every man's right to oppose political coercion 
in any form." 


Few issues of the period were more inflammatory. The con- 
troversy was certain to attract wide attention if on no other 
basis than DeMille's great prestige. To his advisors there was 
another encouraging factor; they knew what a fighter he was, 
for up to that time or since, no Hollywood executive had made 
bold to take so vigorous a position publicly. 

Around the country, supporters of "right to work" legislation 
were jubilant; already a few states had passed such laws, for- 
bidding union membership as a condition of employment. A 
DeMille success in California, a key state, would jolt unionism 
and something that unionism had to have to stay alive, collec- 
tive bargaining. 

In mounting an anti-union crusade DeMille gave solemn 
thought to his own losses should AFRA rule him off the air. He 
would lose his weekly contact with a vast audience. The feeling 
of varied union members who populated every movie set would 
inevitably worsen. He considered public reaction. He wondered 
about the millions of union families who attended the cinema. 

Moreover, he had come to love the Lux show, showering 
much care upon his part in it. So much so that on one occasion 
he harried a writer who was trying to prepare a suitable tribute 
to the filmdom's star moppet, Shirley Temple. 

DeMille felt the man wasn't putting forth his best efforts. 

The writer thought he was, and finally lost his temper. He 
demanded to know what on earth anyone could say about 
Shirley Temple. 

"That's for you to figure out," snapped DeMille. 

"If you'll tell me what you have in mind Til try to do it." 

"Just this/' replied DeMille. "I want to say something about 
Shirley Temple that people will remember forever." 

It was not unthinkable that AFRA might back away, being 
unwilling to project so important an issue with so worthy an 
opponent. Indeed, prestige was viewed by AFRA officials as 
the strongest weapon in DeMille's arsenal. 

294 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

The union notified him that he had until September to pay 
the dollar. 

The election was held. The proposed open-shop amendment 
was defeated by California voters. 

But DeMille still owed the dollar. The union eased the dead- 
line for payment to December 1. 

On the eve of that date DeMille sat down with his wife. He 
wanted her feelings on the matter. Should he pay the dollar? 

In the years ahead, from many and varied speaker platforms, 
he was to tell audiences what her reply was. 

"She told me I had no choice, that if I paid the dollar I would 
be telling the world I placed money above principle. Besides, 
she said she was a partner in the firm and would not pay her 
half of the dollar." 

On December 1, the union gave DeMille ten days in which 
to pay the assessment or be suspended from the air. His public- 
relations director and executive utility man at the time was Bill 
Pine, later to join up with Bill Thomas in the production of less, 
costly pictures. Ironically, they were called "The Dollar Bills/' a 
comment only on their small-budget productions. 

Pine had just returned from a long location. He went quickly 
to DeMille, observed how tired and drawn he was. "Bill, can 
you get me out of this mess?*' he said, wearily. 

DeMille's dilemma planted a fascinating little seed in the 
publicist's mind. 

They talked for a long time and Bill told him he might have 
a way out for him. 

DeMille's reply to this was that he himself knew of a way out 
pay the dollar-but he was not going to do that. 

"I can get you out without your paying the dollar/' Pine said 


"Never mind, I can do it. Just trust me." 

Pine's plan was simple. He would pay the dollar, one of his 


own dollars in fact, thus removing the curse of submission in- 
flicted by payment from the boss himself, 

A day or so later a frightening thought struck DeMille. He 
hastily called in Pine, 

"You weren't thinking of paying that dollar yourself/' 

Pine admitted he was. 

"That's out," exclaimed DeMille. "It would make no differ- 
ence who paid it. I will never pay the dollar and no one will 
ever pay it for me." 

The day Lionel Barrymore was to replace DeMille on the 
Lux program, in February, 1945, the producer was given one 
more chance to pay the dollar; if he did, all would be forgiven. 
DeMille's reply was a declaration of intent; he would, if neces- 
sary, take the case through every court in the land, quoting 
Thomas Jefferson: 

"To compel a man to furnish contribution of money for the 
propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sin- 
ful and tyrannical" 

The speaker s rostrum now beckoned. Invitations poured in, 
and letters flooded the DeMille office. A few letters contained 
rabid dissents but by and large the writers urged him to fight 
on, many also enclosing contributions silver, currency and 

He was now deep in a battle far more demanding than any 
he had staged for the cameras, a modern-day Crusader with a 
siege of Acre of his own. 

The next step was inevitable an organization to spread his 
philosophy. With himself, Freeman, Jeffers, Frank P. Doherty, 
Lloyd C. Douglas and a few others as incorporators, the DeMille 
Foundation for Political Freedom came into existence in late 
fall, 1945. The articles described the Foundation as "non-politi- 
cal, non-partisan, non-profit and non-sectarian," with its main 
purpose being the defense of any individual deprived "of the 
right to earn a living because said person . . . refuses to pay . . . 

296 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

dues or assessments to support or oppose any political party . . ." 
or "for publicly opposing any employer or union/' 

Hollywood had by now grown accustomed to the framework 
in which DeMille was wont to move. It had observed him long 
enough to know that predictions as to his behavior were never 
safe. One might have expected a man, no matter how stalwart, 
to give in to judicial opinion. DeMille did not take to cover 
when first one court, then another, ruled against him. He suf- 
fered three lower-court defeats. 

Next, the United States Supreme Court declined to take his 
case, a refusal which meant that in the court's view DeMille's 
individual guarantees under the Constitution had not been 
prejudiced by AFRA. 

DeMille did not waver in the holiness of his cause. If any- 
thing was amiss it was a judiciary capable of rendering a ver- 
dict that deprived a man of his right to work, and "therefore 
his right to life itself." 

The courts had said that AFRA in levying the assessment had 
not interfered with DeMille's right of suffrage or discussion. He 
could vote for the measure, even though his dollar was working 
against it. DeMille pooh-poohed the distinction; his dollar nulli- 
fied his vote, he insisted. 

Apart from the fact his stand was four-square on a matter of 
principle, it could not be denied that a single vote influenced 
by the union s use of the DeMille dollar would have the effect 
of voiding DeMille's ballot. 

Judge Wilson of the Los Angeles Superior Court in ruling for 
AFRA said the circumstances do not permit a complaint by 
anyone who is still permitted to vote as he pleases. 

On the issues, the editorial writers of virtually every major 
newspaper went to work with considerable gusto. They were 
about evenly divided on the court's logic but almost all saw a 
danger in political assessments of this variety. The Saturday 
Evening Post reflected the majority thinking by posing a shrewd 
and interesting question. "Suppose the assessment had been ten 


dollars. Would it be reasonable to force a man to cast ten votes 
against himself on the ground that he was free to cast one on 
the other side?" 

By temperament an expert in the sweeping broadside, De- 
Mille searched for a dramatic key to his predicament. His cause 
was just; now to devise a strategy that would expose his evil 

He was now morbidly certain that Communist influences 
were at work against him. 

At luncheon one day he said he had spoken with the ex- 
Communist, Louis Budenz. "He told me the Communists had 
gotten me off the air but they couldn't get Fulton J. Lewis, Jr. 

He reflected on the possibility of Red infiltration into the 
AFRA board of directors but a check of their background re- 
vealed nothing even slightly encouraging. Frequent conferences 
with FBI agents sur-charged the air in the bungalow, and mis- 
sions veiled in the greatest secrecy were entrusted to staff mem- 

Judge Medina's heroic demonstration of patience and justice 
in the celebrated Communist trial in New York was closely fol- 
lowed, and the staff cheered when the eleven hooting, howling 
Reds were convicted. 

Reading a newspaper account to the trial, DeMille exclaimed, 
"I feel the country is swinging to my side. I sense it!" 

For the moment, his attention was diverted. An open dispute 
developed with the Catholic bishop in San Diego, Charles F. 
Buddy, who hurried to his typewriter whenever DeMille wrote 
a major article on AFRA, freedom, or rights of man. This flow 
of rebuttal appeared in the San Diego diocese paper, Southern 
Cross, and the Jesuit publication, America. 

298 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

The unsolicited ripostes from the priest were skillfully 
thought out. The boss was needled by them. "There are Com- 
munist sympathizers in the Catholic Church/' he said one day, 
"I know one, Bishop Buddy/' and repeating a favorite lament, 
"I'd like to become a Catholic someday but I can't make up my 
mind about an organization that allows a man like Buddy to 

It was, all of it, a strange quest much out of keeping with 
his character, an eerie bit of witch-hunting which sought to in- 
flict the Communist stigma on those who merely disagreed with 

He told us there was no telling what organizations had be- 
come Communist sounding boards. When he was asked by the 
United States Lawn Tennis Association to permit the honorary 
use of his name, he ordered a check made of its politics. "We 
just can't be too careful," he said. 

Of the several opposed concepts of DeMille, the impression 
of him as the "father of the American film" has taken on almost 
legendary proportions. After-dinner speakers placed DeMille 
on a pedestal enjoyed by few distinguished Americans, pairing 
him off with Lincoln, General Marshall, Belasco, Barnum and 
Billy Rose. In most instances the comparisons pleased DeMille. 
However, on one occasion a zealot likened Franklin D. Roose- 
velt's Americanism to DeMille's, a shock which the veteran pro- 
ducer never quite overcame. 

It was difficult for the boss to keep from placing much of his 
woe at the doorstep of Roosevelt New Dealers. At this time, 
some six years after his AFRA defeat in the courts, he was con- 
scious of how really big was his sacrifice. He was not only off 
the air permanently but also banned from television. Forgetful 
persons who sought him for a radio or TV appearance had to be 


told he could not appear without special permission from AFRA. 
On our premiere tours across country a few stations did obtain 
AFRA's consent for local appearances but in most instances 
the invitation was withdrawn. 

In August, 1950, he told J, P. McEvoy of Reader's Digest: 

"It has cost me at least $800,000 to date because I refused to 
pay that $1, and I am willing to spend every cent Ive got until 
every American has the right to work when he pleases, where 
he pleases, for himself or whoever wants to hire him. What be- 
comes of those inalienable rights of man-life, liberty and the 
pursuit of happiness if you haven't the right to work?" 

Part of our job was to be alert for little inconsistencies that 
might be uttered by the boss, often too busy in the heat of battle 
to take note of academic trifles. His remark to McEvoy about 
the constitutional guarantees of "life, liberty and the pursuit of 
happiness" was not quite right, according to the Constitution. 

A memo to him the next day called attention to the specific 
reference in the 5th amendment: "nor shall any person be de- 
prived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." 

He returned the memo with a notation reading, "It's the New 
Dealers. Now they have passed laws whereby one can be de- 
prived of property " 

The political climate in the bungalow changed sharply in 
1950 when James Roosevelt sought the governorship in Cali- 
fornia against the incumbent conservative, Earl Warren. Nor- 
mally, talk of politics was in a light vein. 

This time DeMille issued a warning to all staff members 
within earshot: 

"Anyone in this office who votes for Roosevelt can pack his 
bag and head for the door." 

New Deal policies, however, did find a kind of acceptance in 
a remote corner of the DeMille operation. Up at Paradise ranch, 

300 es, Mr. DeMille 

the deer from nearby wooded arroyos gathered on the lawn in 
front of the main house for a daily meal of potatoes, a deer deli- 
cacy. They were "New Deal" potatoes, bought from the govern- 
ment surplus stocks at 5 cents for a 100-pound sackful. The sack 
itself was later sold for 17 cents. The results were twofold con- 
tented deer and a nice profit, a situation which DeMille attrib- 
uted to New Deal bungling of the law of supply and demand. 


IN the fall, 1950, Hollywood was caught up in one of 
those "brush fire" controversies which, in the highly emotional 
community, filled the air with bitter argument. Outsiders were 
charging that the film colony was a hotbed of communist sym- 
pathizers and actual party adherents, and old movie scripts 
were being dusted off to show how, unwittingly, the studios had 
produced movies that parroted the "party line" as set out by 
tainted writers, 

Fiery disputes licked hungrily in every direction. DeMille felt 
there was something to the charge, and so advised fellow direc- 
tors, friendly ones like George Marshall and Al Rogell. He was 
at the time a member of the board of Hollywood's strongest and 
most influential group-the Screen Directors Guild-and what 
better way to demonstrate the Guild's Americanism than to pass 
a resolution requiring every director to take a loyalty oath? 

While much of this behind-doors activity was going on, the 
Guild's president, Joseph L. Mankiewicz was traveling abroad. 
And while he was still away, the Guild's board, led by DeMille 
and "a few other conservatives like myself," enacted a bylaw 
calling for the loyalty oath. 

This, the Board felt, would silence the industry's accusers so 


far as the directors themselves were concerned, and put to rest 
rumors that the Guild was dominated by Commie dupes. 

Upon his return to the States, Mankiewicz (in no sense a 
DeMille adherent) sharply criticized the Board's action. Then 
he learned something that prodded him into immediate action; 
a petition was being circulated among Guild members calling 
for his recall as president. 

Now, the lines were formed, and the issues joined DeMille 
and his followers against Mankiewicz and those who felt a loy- 
alty oath was an affront to every American. 

The membership was aroused and, 500 strong, trouped to a 
meeting in late October. 

Arguments raged for five hours. At midnight the battle was 
still on. 

Mankiewicz made it clear that he was unalterably opposed to 
an open ballot, a blacklist, and a mandatory oath. He said all 
three procedures were un-American. 

Before he had finished his hour long opening speech it be- 
came apparent to most of the members present that, as one 
observer put it, "the DeMille-Rogell-Marshall faction had at- 
tempted to ride the wrong horse " 

DeMille defended the position of his faction. As the debate 
wore on and he began to sense the size of the opposition, he 
turned his fire on what he alleged to be the questionable poli- 
tics of his opponents. 

Without referring to anyone by name, DeMille charged that 
most of the twenty-five directors who had tried to stop the recall 
of Mankiewicz were affiliated with leftist or subversive organi- 
zations or theories. 

The meeting, according to Variety, started to hiss and boo 
him. "John Cromwell, Don Hartman, Rouben Mamoulian, Her- 
bert Leeds, William Wellman, John Ford, among others, bitterly 
assailed DeMille's statements." 

One director asserted he was "sick and tired" of being re- 

302 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

quired to defend his Americanism every time he expressed an 
opinion in opposition to DeMille. 

Another said he was "wallowing in the muck of Bastogne at 
the time that DeMille was defending his capital gains in Holly- 

Rogell and Leo McCarey tried to side with DeMille but their 
efforts were brief and ineffectual. 

Scores of reporters maintained a watch outside the doors of 
the meeting room, trying to pry pieces of information from 
members who emerged for a few moments' recess. 

Near three A.M. DeMille's loss of ground was evident. He was 
asked from the floor to retract his charges against the twenty- 
five directors. He refused, asserting that his statements were 
true. John Ford then made a motion asking the resignation of 
the entire board. The motion was seconded by Walter Lang 
and the board was out. 

For the knot of reporters outside the meeting room, it was a 
long vigil. 

As the evening wore on, they began to view it as a contest in 
uresis. They began checking the names of directors who took 
one recess; everyone in attendance had made at least one trip, 
some more. 

Everyone, that is, except DeMille! 

It remained for Tom Pryor, then Hollywood bureau chief of 
The New York Times, to deliver the memorable comment, 
"There's no doubt about it, DeMille has the greatest courage in 
town and the strongest kidneys/' 

At luncheon the next day we could tell important events had 
transpired. The boss's manner was deeply contemplative. For 
minutes the only sound was a muffled crunch as he fished an 
occasional potato chip from the bowl in front of him. 

His eyes went slowly from one staff member to another, com- 
ing full circle to the secretary at his right. 


Then, he said quietly, "If you don't think our country is in 
danger you should have been at last night's meeting." 

A weekly series of syndicated articles with DeMille's by- 
line began to appear in newspapers under the heading, CECIL 
DEMILLE SPEAKING. At one period, the articles were being pub- 
lished by more than sixty outlets, reaching an estimated 20 
million readers. This occasioned a real sense of triumph in view 
of Hollywood's traditional practice of feeding the press with 
great quantities of material free of charge. Through the syndi- 
cate, General Features Corporation, the client newspapers were 
paying us for the articles. We were the envy of rival press 
agents, who assumed we would use the columns to "plug'* our 
own movies, but this was rarely done. 

For material, we dug deep into Mr. DeMille's past film activi- 
ties for anecdotes and humorous episodes, for it was on that 
basis light, airy articles that we were able to sell the idea of 
a series to General Features. Now a new upheaval threatened, 
induced by the AFRA and Guild conflicts. 

Mr. DeMille made it clear that he wished to strike a blow 
for freedom through the weekly series. In New York, the Syndi- 
cate was disturbed over this proposal; political articles would 
not be advisable, and would we please communicate that 
thought to Mr. DeMille. When we did, he said no one was going 
to tell him what he would write and would we please com- 
municate that thought to the Syndicate. 

There were weekly deadlines to meet, and in shuttling be- 
tween the two parties, we continued writing memoirs for the 
boss. With each submission, he inquired about the political arti- 
cles until their preparation could be put off no longer. 

DeMille had suggested a series of three articles on the AFRA 
controversy. Once more Robert Pearsall, the Syndicate's gen- 

304 Jes> Mr. DeMille 

eral manager, strongly objected; he said espousal of any cause, 
political or otherwise, deviated from our original understanding. 

The first AFRA article began, "Lost causes are won by men 
who won't give up the fight," and went on to detail DeMille's 
sentiments on "right to work" and his part in events that led to 
the passage of the Taft-Hartley law. There were immediate 
inquiries from editors, some papers withholding the article from 
publication. We hastened to tell DeMille that these actions 
were not a comment on the merits of the AFRA case; it was 
simply that their contract with the Syndicate called for articles 
about Hollywood from "Mr. Hollywood" himself. 

If Mr. DeMille enjoyed haggling with his staff, he should 
have been at this time in a divine ecstacy. A hot glow of dissen- 
sion enveloped the bungalow. Writers on the circus story were 
coming and going. The hunt for possible Red influence in jour- 
nalism was hard on the heels of sources that referred to Samson 
and Delilah as a story reflecting bad taste. And now along came 
the Syndicate's opposition to articles designed to deliver a ring- 
ing defense of man's right to work. 

Within the bungalow the taste for the weekly series was wan- 
ing. Mr. DeMille withheld approval of articles over long peri- 
ods, rejecting one after another. The career of each draft grew 
more stormy; deadlines became a problem as the Syndicate pep- 
pered us with appeals for more articles. 

To avoid further delay, we began to rely more and more upon 
DeMille's own suggestions for articles; usually these were 
promptly approved. 

There was no way of knowing just when a future article 
would pop out of his conversation. 

He was saying one day how fate could be pretty capricious 
with people. 

'Tears ago we were making a picture with Claudette Colbert 
and Herbert Marshall on the east coast of Hawaii in thick jungle 
country, and the only sign of civilization was an asylum for the 
insane sitting up on a high hill. A path ran down the hill from 


the asylum past the spot where we were shooting and we sup- 
posed it was used by the asylum. In that picture we had a great 
oriental idol more than fifty feet high, which we had made in 
the States and shipped in pieces to the Island. Well, it was as- 
sembled right there and it looked pretty grotesque, sitting in 
the jungle before a small clearing. Matter of fact it was outright 
eerie. The idol was put up and we shot our scenes, and then we 
all left for a location a few miles away. That evening two in- 
mates came strolling down. They saw the idol and froze in their 
tracks. Where had this monstrous thing with a face like a gar- 
goyle come from? They did not approach it but turned and fled. 
When they reached the asylum they hurried to the office of the 
superintendent with the news. The superintendent received the 
story with a dubious shake of his head. A few days before he 
had given these two men the freedom of the area, thinking their 
minds were back to normal, but now it appeared he had made 
a mistake. Certainly anyone who sees a giant idol in this remote 
jungle ought to be checked a little closer. The inmates insisted 
they weren't nuts, that there really was an idol out there and 
they could prove it if he would follow them. The superintendent 
nodded his head, obviously humoring them, and promised he 
would go with them in the morning, as it was getting dark. 

"That very evening Roy Burns and his crew returned to the 
location, dismantled the idol and placed it aboard a boat 'for 
our new location. We had promised the local government not 
to destroy trees in the area, so Roy and his men were careful to 
clean up the spot and remove all debris. The next morning the 
two inmates, now plainly worried about whether they really 
had seen an idol, returned to the spot with the superintendent 
at their heels. They rushed here and there, but no idol! And the 
more they talked, the more the superintendent shook his head. 
There was only one thing he could do, revoke their right to 
move around the area and confine them to the asylum." 

Mr. DeMille said he had learned the story from one of the 
Paramount people who had talked to the superintendent of the 

306 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

asylum. The tragic, ironic note of the story appealed to him 
greatly and he wondered why it would not be suitable for our 
syndicated series of articles. We agreed, but the ending was a 
little weak. Now of course if a new ending could be tacked 
on. . . 

The little wheels in the boss's head began to whirl. "Here are 
these two poor guys who really aren't crazy at all. The superin- 
tendent thinks they are, and they are beginning to wonder. Did 
they see something that wasn't there?" 

Ideas were tossed back and forth until we came up with an 
ending with justice triumphant. Though confined to quarters 
the two men were granted permission to see the weekly movies 
shown to most of the inmates. Months now have passed. The 
'idol incident has caused severe psychological damage, and their 
progress has been greatly retarded. Then one evening they at- 
tend a movie, one by Cecil B. DeMille, and they see the coast 
of Hawaii, and, lo and behold, a giant oriental idol! The two 
men rush to the side of the superintendent, who is there, too, 
and the men are vindicated and their rights restored. 

With a little reworking it made a wonderful, heartwarming 
little episode that somehow fit in with the boss's philosophy 
toward historical drama "I am interested in people, not dates." 
The article went into sixty newspapers and millions of homes 
and the letters received at the bungalow gave us the feeling the 
boss had wrought a charming and joyful tale. 

The Syndicate's insistence on articles of a non-political na- 
ture spelled the end of the series. Upon DeMille's instructions it 
was canceled in September, 1951. 

Before the boss had made the decision, we suggested that 
perhaps another writer might take overperhaps someone with 
a fresh viewpoint. Though DeMille promptly brushed the sug- 
gestion aside, it was a suggestion that we felt should be made, 

ft 9> 


in view of a comment DeMille had written on the face of a re- 
jected article: I thought I had an interesting life until I began 
reading your articles. 


ONE of the fee-simple tenants on the DeMille ranch 
Paradise was a peacock named Henry. He was not the only one 
of his species; years ago scores had been imported to the moun- 
tainous retreat by DeMille. Soon there were hundreds of the 
vain creatures strutting about, for Henry and a few compatriots 
of equally sturdy drumstick were not fettered by any foolish 
notions of celibacy, Henry measured up to every romantic obli- 
gationwith the result that the region teemed with his issue. 
In fact so magnificent were his feats of paternity that the lin- 
eage became obscured, and there were occasions when offspring 
would pass without so much as a nod at their great sire. 

Henry had other marks of distinction, in recognition of which 
fate one day was to set him out as a marked peacock. 

Mr. DeMille's interest in the bird of legend went back a long 
way. As a boy his appreciation of peacocks was encouraged by 
the family's Sunday visits to the art museums in New York. The 
elder DeMille may have directed Cecil and Bill to the old mas- 
ters for more aesthetic reasons; still, Cecil could not help observ- 
ing the gorgeous peacocks in the background of many a famous 
painting, particularly the outsized one atop the stable in Fra 
Angelico's "Adoration of the Magi/' It appeared, however, that 
the first real spark of his admiration was struck years later when 
he ran across a copy of the London Journal containing a color 
photograph of a shapely lass in an all peacock-feather gown. 

It was on that day that Henry's destiny was inexorably shaped. 

In proper season, Henry was a moulting fool. Sometimes De- 

308 fes, Mr. DeMille 

Mille himself, but more often the workers at the ranch, stalked 
the vain bird up crevice and slope to retrieve the magnificent 
"eyed" feathers that fell from Henry's sturdy frame. These were 
carefully preserved for the day when Mr. DeMille would en- 
counter a heroine worthy to wear a creation ornamented with 
the iridescent plumes, 

Thus Henry's burnished feathers were stored for years. 

In time the DeMille flock dwindled to a mere handful but 
no marked change could be observed in Henry. He ruled with 
the air of a monarch conscious of the comparative weakness of 
his subjects. As a Don Juan his performances were incendiary, 
his chivalry ft entrance. Peacocks are accustomed to roosting 
alone. However, on nights when the moon was high and the 
spirit of amour was afield, he took to a high limb with his harem, 
usually two or three awestruck females. Henry rarely was ob- 
served in the gloaming with fewer than five peahens in attend- 
ance. As if rallying attention to himself, he would let out the 
shrill peacock cry, sending small fowl into frightened refuge 
among the shrubs. It is a startling cry to ears that have never 
heard it, a harsh piercing scream as of mortal distress. It could 
not be interpreted as distress in Henry's case, for no one would 
contest Henry's mastery, no matter how aggravated were the 
demands upon his powers in the course of a single evening. The 
love season found him the center of a circle of admiring pea- 
hens, meek and myopic little creatures, their garb as drab as 
sackcloth. He staged these exhibitions in the plot of grass west 
of the main house, and when his audience was large enough and 
possibly deferential enough he would spread his great fan, then 
turn slowly about with a kind of deliberate majesty. This, too, 
was a facet of his understanding nature, for it provided some- 
thing other than a rear view for the spectators on the porch. 

DeMille, sensitive to things that bespeak showmanship, was 
of the opinion Henry would have been an unbearable prude 
were it not for one thing. "He would strut around until his eyes 
fell upon his ridiculous feet and his pride would suffer a com- 


plete collapse/* He once likened Henry to the actresses who 
came to his office. "Ninety per cent of them have beautiful faces, 
bad voices, and ugly feet." 

After more than a decade of feather gathering, DeMille de- 
cided to make his move. He felt he had found the heroine equal 
to the honor, no one exceptionally less than that Biblical flap- 
per, Delilah, as portrayed by a woman of even greater beauty, 
Hedy Lamarr. It is not easy to say what f owlish emotions stirred 
Henry's soul at the thought that his feathers were to play such 
a soft and silken part in a mighty epic, or to what extent his 
composure was shattered by the news that the sum of $10,000 
would be spent on Delilah's peacock cape, of turquoise velvet 
lined with gold Iam6, under the direction of Paramount's fre- 
quent Academy Award winner, chief designer, Edith Head. 

It came about that a blow was struck at Henry's pride. 

DeMille was dissatisfied with the color of the "eyes" of the 

They weren't bright enough. 

So he set to work a row of some twenty women, in assembly- 
line fashion, touching up the "eyes" with metallic paints. With 
pinpoint brushes the painters were at their tasks for several 
weeks to complete the renovation of hundreds of feathers an 
incomparably rare instance of two earthly forces, DeMille and 
DuPont, setting themselves about to improve on God's handi- 

While it is sad that Henry's little saga did not end on a note 
of complete personal triumph, there was considerable symbol- 
ism in it to those who interested themselves in the complexity 
of Mr. DeMille's personality. 

In Henry, they found a key to a gentler aspect of the show- 
man's nature his pursuit of beauty in every form. 

DeMille heroines were more dazzling, their ornaments more 
breath-taking, their living more pleasurable. The people of his 
post-World War I social dramas moved in an atmosphere of 
ermine, marble swimming pools and plush footmen. He pur- 

310 Yes, Mr. DeMille 

chased a $15,000 mink coat for Gloria Swanson to wear in a pic- 
ture, explaining, "The audience will love it and Gloria will be 
enchanted. How could she fail to give me a good performance?" 
No cost was spared if it meant such elegance as flowing drapes, 
gowns of spun silver bought by the pound in Egypt, or gold 
goblets purchased from an European treasure house. "The audi- 
ence/' he had said, "little knows what treasures there are in my 
pictures." If, as his critics cried out, his people were unreal, 
there was no lack of reality in the things about them, down to 
the smallest details real fruit, real wine, real roast pheasant (a 
distressing problem on our sets was the disappearance of edi- 
bles; many a feast prepared for a Roman orgy 30 B.C. was con- 
sumed piecemeal by Americans circa 1930 A.D., requiring the 
posting of guards). Once the boss learned that a head photog- 
rapher, Whitey Schafer, was applying a kind of lacquer, known 
as "sex oil" around the lot, to the face and arms of one of his 
principals, Carol Thurston, to create a sort of glow. It impinged 
on the boss's concept of natural feminine allure and word was 
dispatched to Schafer "Mr. DeMille asks that you stop putting 
canned sex on Miss Thurston." 

Many observers of the DeMille complex accepted what they 
saw at its face value. One phrase was both obvious and irre- 
sistible: "a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/' This dual temperament 
at one time or another has baffled virtually everyone, even inti- 
mates. They were never sure what land of human being he 
really was down deep. After Mr. DeMille's death a staff member 
of fourteen years of close association wrote for the press that he 
was "essentially a sincere and humble man," while another ob- 
server a few years back regarded him as "a charlatan, trickster, 
and a man of no real resource," 

The editors of a film magazine sent a writer on an interesting 
mission in the summer of 1930. They asked him to clear up the 


DeMille paradox. Before the interview the writer searched the 
records, emerging more confused than ever. The records held 
DeMille to be "the worst slave driver of all the directors/' "the 
most considerate man in Hollywood/' "merciless," "a man who 
likes to be considered a king," "modest and conservative," 
"feared by his associates/ 7 "loved by his associates." 

The writer arrived on a day DeMille was inspecting a parade 
of exotic frocks worn by models. He waved them all out of the 
room, "moved a charming old Chinese bronze out of the way 
and sat silently, fixing me with very intense eyes." 

The writer spoke first: "What kind of man are you anyway, 
Mr. DeMille? Are you really Dr. Jekyll or are you Mr. Hyde? 
And if one of the characters people give you is false why do 
you make no attempt to correct it? Why have you allowed this 
two-edged legend to flourish all these years?" 

Showman DeMille smiled. "If I told you positively, people 
could only talk about me once instead of twice as they do now. 
That would be a real calamity, for they might stop going to see 
my pictures. I can't answer you. You'll have to guess for your- 

While the writer could draw nothing more out of him, De- 
Mille utilized the occasion to add to his own legend. "He showed 
me an amazing collection of curios and gorgeous unset jewels, 
and then amidst all this display of wealth and luxury, he 
would be interrupted by calls from his brokers, giving swift 
answers like 'Buy me so many shares at the market *; 'Sell. 
I don't like their last statement'; 'Yes, 111 endorse her note. She 
once played for my father.' " 

Lewis Jacobs, a film analyst, contended DeMille had never 
made a fine film, "only pretentious ones." Robert Sherwood in 
a more contemplative mood tagged him "the Zeus of Holly- 
wood," pointing out that his training under Belasco accounted 
for "the form of hokum which was to make him famous and 
rich." To Jim Tully he was "the first man in such a position I 
have met who knows the mob without thinking on their level. 

312 Yes, Mr. DeUille 

He has the weakness of those who have tasted power and the 
mentality of those who realize its futility/' 

Editorially, the Saturday Evening Post judged that "if De- 
Mille has accomplished nothing else he has at least enriched 
the English language, for his name is commonly used to de- 
scribe such things as the Grand Canyon, the Mississippi flood, 
an onyx bathroom or a Palm Beach debutante party." Almost 
on the day this estimate went into American homes, a world 
poll of movie exhibitors placed DeMille far and away at the top 
of his industry. The writer and consultant to stars, Rufus Blair, 
was on a DeMille set one day and within earshot when a sce- 
narist was repeating from a script an order given by George 
Washington to a Virginia militiaman. DeMille asked whether 
Washington had given such an order. The scenarist said no. 
"Then/' said DeMille, "take it out of the script. You can't change 
Washington's biography. It's like giving Jesus of Nazareth a 
new line in the Gospels." Upon departing Blair voiced what 
for the moment may be a reasonably apt summary of this lofty 
temperament. "He's a weird despot with a fundamental con- 
tempt for the human race, a great genius with marvelous skills, 
basking in the warm rays of his own personal sun." 

He could allow no scene to pass ungilded. His mind, basically 
theatrical, saw great epochs in terms of episodes of ornate melo- 
drama connected by a thin cord of narration, like pearls on 
grocery twine. No human actor ever rose above the majesty of 
a DeMille spectacle, unless it was DeMille himself. It was im- 
possible for many to see his pictures without sensing his pres- 

It was as a melodrama-maker that he became an exhibitionist 
of astonishing stature. He turned the spotlight upon himself with 
a boldness never equaled in Hollywood. Will Rogers called him 
his own biggest epic. Carl Sandburg told him he had seen every 


one of his pictures but that DeMille had never read a single one 
of his poems. DeMille regretfully agreed. Robert Benchley de- 
voted column after column of inspired invective to DeMille and 
his pictures, then visited the producer at the studio and watched 
him trumpet like a chained elephant as he directed a mob scene. 
Afterwards DeMille received the eminent humorist with open- 
armed affection, thanked him for keeping his name before the 
public. Benchley went away a staunch DeMille supporter. 

On the day the million-dollar theater opened its doors in 
downtown Los Angeles, featuring the debut of a DeMille pic- 
ture, the spectators gasped at sight of an airplane circling the 
flagpole atop the theater dome. The pilot was DeMille. He re- 
ceived more publicity than either the opening or the picture. 

His forays into exploitation were foolproof. He shunned the 
infantile and made sure that there was enough sense in an ex- 
ploit to gain it public acceptance. A lapse in this custom oc- 
curred in the 'Twenties, when the studios faced an odd racial 
problem. Every movie gangster was detectably of Italian ex- 
traction. The Italians objected, whereupon the villains began 
looking like Germans, and the Germans complained. 

Showman DeMille's instincts were astir. He set out in his 
yacht, Seaward, and upon his return a few days later announced 
that he was negotiating for the purchase of the Cedros islands 
off the California coast. Henceforth all the villains in his pic- 
tures would be Cedrans. He told friends that he was going to 
put the entire island population of several hundred people 
under contract with a yearly retainer of $10 per capita. There 
would be enough villains for every studio, at the usual guild 
rates. Nothing came of the idea other than a gleeful reception 
by the press. 

The Dutch Government decorated DeMille with the Order 
of Orange-Nassau for bringing to the screen the story of Cory- 
don WasselTs almost singlehanded evacuation of wounded Navy 
men from Java to Australia during World War II. The world 
first learned of the Arkansas doctor s heroism through one of 

314 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

President Roosevelt's fireside chats. DeMille, never particularly 
attentive to the New Dealer's pronouncements, did not listen to 
the speech. That night, he received a late call from his capable 
public relations director, Ted Bonnet, whose first novel, The 
Mudlark, written after he had left DeMille, became a best seller 
and later a motion picture. 

Ted ascertained the boss had not heard the President's broad- 
cast and proceeded to recount the Wassell exploit. 

"It's a perfect story for us," Bonnet exclaimed. 

"Check with me in the morning and I'll talk to Paramount 
about it,'* said DeMille. 

"It will be too late then," Bonnet insisted. 

"What do you mean?" 

"By tomorrow morning every studio and independent pro- 
ducer in town will be on the phone to Washington." 

"Well, what do you suggest, that we call now?" It was then 
past midnight. 

"Yes," said Bonnet quickly. 

A half -hour later the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, was 
startled by a caller in Hollywood saying, "I want Dr. Wassell 
and the United States Navy." 

By now fully awake, Knox gently reminded DeMille that the 
United States was engaged in a major war. 

"I can give you Wassell but we'll have to hold off letting you 
have the Navy for the time being." 

"Do you agree that I will have the first chance at Dr. Was- 
sell?" persisted DeMille. The official agreed. 

As Bonnet had predicted, a score of applicants eager for the 
film rights to the Wassell story besieged the Navy Department 
the following day. 

Dr. Wassell was in Australia when the Navy instructed him 
to proceed immediately to the West Coast and await further 

Wassell was worried. He had undertaken the evacuation from 


Java without specific instructions, in an emergency that called 
for swift decision. He hoped he had done the right thing but he 
was disciplined in the Navy's rigid chain of command. It struck 
him that the Secretary might now be acting on his behavior, 
with perhaps even a court martial in the offing. 

Wassell was met in Los Angeles and told to go to the office 
of a film director named Cecil DeMille. 

Though considerably relieved, Wassell was puzzled when he 
took a chair in DeMille's office. 

"You are going to be the subject of a motion picture," DeMille 

The obscure medico from the Arkansas hills rose from his 
seat, his face flushed. 

"A what! Motion picture! I don't care to be in a motion pic- 

"Not exactly you," said DeMille, gently. "You will be played 
by Gary Cooper, if we can sign him up for the part/' 

Wassell was not impressed. Cooper or no Cooper, he didn't 
like the idea. 

DeMille was sympathetic; he realized what the doctor had 
been through, but he owed it to America, the Navy, the Presi- 
dent and the Secretary to demonstrate to the world the caliber 
of our men in service. 

It was inevitable that the course of the Wassell film would 
not be smooth. Wassell looked intently to Navy protocol, while 
DeMille sought to keep his ear attuned to boxoffice values. 
When the picture was premiered in Washington, officialdom 
waited expectantly to hear DeMille call Dr. Wassell onto the 
stage during the opening ceremonies. Not Wassell but Cooper 
was summoned before the capacity audience. As a showman, 
DeMille knew the danger of destroying an illusion. "Gary Cooper 
is the hero of Java in our film," DeMille explained to his staff 
later. "Cooper is Wassell. That's what the public must believe/' 


IN the forty-six years he spent behind the cameras, 
he created a wide and impressive assortment of images of him- 
self, some as vivid as the heroes who thundered out of his scripts. 
In his multiple forms, this last of the great pioneer directors left 
behind much for his critics and followers to chew on DeMille 
the Sound Stage Tyrant, DeMille the Thirteenth Apostle, De- 
Mille the Bathtub King. These and other bouncy titles were not 
always spoken in jest, yet they glanced harmlessly off his armor. 
He learned to live without the acclaim of colleagues, always 
aware that Hollywood disapproved of his firebrand tactics, his 
Barnumesque settings, his preoccupation with display, and par- 
ticularly his irritating habit of deriving enormous profit from 
subjects that were supposed to spell financial ruin. 

He had to be the boldest of competitors in order to survive 
nearly a half century of Hollywood's chancy climate. No one 
cared to contest the fact that he had proved himself the most 
durable and tireless of them all. Associates were wont to pon- 
der whether he was mortal and fallible, perhaps even inexpli- 
cably immune to the laws of natural tenancy. Not aware of this 
special dispensation, Hollywood periodically set about writing 
Ids epitaph. More than twenty years ago Louella Parsons an- 
nounced his retirement, speculating on how he was going to 
spend the 40 million dollars which she estimated he possessed 
at that time. DeMille emerged from these premature wakes 
with twice the energy of his would-be mourners and, like a 
prophet of old, continued to strike miracles from the rocks of 
Hollywood. He accepted challenge joyfully and knew the uses 
of adversity, once remarking to his old railroading friend Bill 
Jeffers, with devilish intonation, "I am the arch ogre of Holly- 


wood." To the very end his career bristled with combat, in a 
medley of conflicting legends swirling around him like match- 
sticks in an eddy. He created a number of these legends him- 
self, only to deny them stoutly in late years when the mantle of 
world prestige rested comfortably on his shoulders. 

To those far removed from the Hollywood scene, the life of 
this fabled man will seem unreal. Some may find it hard to 
accept the existence of such a wildly unfettered temperament. 
Yet this brilliant self-promoter, this modern-day Renaissance 
prince surrounded by obedient mercenaries was the man who 
produced pictures that thrilled millions of persons all over the 
world. A few years ago an able writer was commissioned to do 
a serious biographical study of DeMille. DeMille read it, an- 
grily hurled it into the wastebasket On its title page he had 
written, "I get the impression I have never had a pleasant mo- 
ment in my life except when torturing someone." 

His own staff never really understood the scope of his efforts 
to achieve the extraordinary. On one occasion an aide was asked 
what he thought of an episode in the Book of Esther, which 
DeMille was considering as a film story at the time. The aide 
remarked that the Biblical tale had interesting possibilities. "In- 
teresting possibilities!" the director lashed out. '"Why you've 
missed the whole point. Think of it, one thousand virgins stand- 
ing in the courtyard, and the King of Babylon has his choice!" 

Again, trying out a story idea on a couple of new writers: 
"This is not a religious story, it's a Bible story, but above every- 
thing else it's a love story. There is a great message in it, a hu- 
man message of love. It's not a message that has to do with any 
sect. It's not how the Jews were rescued by Moses. It's a story 
of human relations of two people. It's just a damn good hot tale, 
so don't get a lot of these, thous and thums in your mind." 

He was aware that his staff found life fraught with anxieties 
and tensions and, like Nero's lieutenants, remained with him 
because of the prestige that came with serving him. He did not 
expect the staff to approve of his methods, once admonishing an 

318 Yes, Mr. DeMilk 

assistant who was having trouble with a writing assignment, 
"Don't worry about whether it's good or bad. Just please me 
and your troubles are over." 

His boundless energy and explosive fury made the miracle of 
his kind of bigness possible, achieving his grandiose purpose 
with the best of the mortal timber available to him and the air 
of a person called upon to moor a ship with a thread. He put 
boredom to flight by sheer pyrotechnics, and in gentler mo- 
ments enthralled the shopgirl and housewife by his sensitive 
eye for finery and elegant trappings. 

As a ritualist with attentive acolytes as his aides he sought an 
ideal world. When he did not find it he made one of his own, 
reduced it to his will and whim. The last twenty years of his 
life were spent in the narrow confine of studio and staff. In that 
period Hollywood, hopelessly gregarious, saw nothing of him 
socially. Here and there was a DeMille intimate but the rest 
were rektionships rather than friendships. In those years he 
was an unwilling partner with the film colony. Like nature, he 
developed protective tissue deflecting the jests of the rude and 
the taunts of the ignorant. If Hollywood was frigid, he was 
thrice frigid, deriving his strength from what was viewed as the 
most nutritional of all Hollywood vitamins big returns at the 
boxoffice, When the industry made a shortsighted show of brav- 
ery a few years back, pretending that a new thing called tele- 
vision was no menace at all, DeMille blandly declared that 
Hollywood's fate rested on the new medium. It was the sort of 
prescience that had stood him well. The outraged cries of be- 
trayal from Hollywood executives forced him into an agonizing 
silence, depending as he did on the purse of others for his pro- 

The tantalizing riddle of Cecil DeMille was his remoteness 
from an industry of which he was the main attraction. No crown 
from colleagues rests on the head of the fabled Hollywood vir- 
tuoso. Probably the most incisive of these reflections on DeMille 

ft 99 


was destined to be uttered by Mrs. DeMille herself, a most gra- 
cious and serene woman. 

The occasion was an Academy Award dinner in 1942, and 
among the notables was the Chinese ambassador to the United 
States, Dr. Hu Shih, whose country was fighting bravely at the 
time against terroristic Japanese invaders. 

DeMille, introducing Hu Shih, referred to him as "the Japa- 
nese Ambassador." He quickly rectified the unfortunate error 
and amid oppressive silence returned to his seat. Smiling gently 
as ever, Mrs. DeMille leaned toward her husband. "Cecil," she 
whispered, "at last you have done something that Hollywood 
will remember you for."